Category: St. Paul

Butternut Squash-Zucchini Curry with Couscous or What is Home??

Butternut Squash-Zucchini Curry with Couscous or What is Home??

Last summer, when I began to make the first vegetable curries of the season, I was right here in our Colorado house up on the mesa.  I needed a quick dinner and had a bunch of vegetables lying around the counter–including lots of tomatoes.  A pot of rice was put to boil and I threw a bunch of vegetables and a little curry powder into a big skillet.  We ate quite happily very soon thereafter.

DISCLAIMER:  I’ll freely admit I’m no authenic Indian cook; check out Just a Girl from Mumbai or The Lady 8 Home (two of my Ina Friday friends’ blogs) for authentic recipes.  Or, for a general set of instructions, check out this post. 

Colorado kitchen

Last week, we moved permanently from Saint Paul back to Colorado into the house we’ve owned there for eight years by now.  To say it was or is a wrench is an understatement, because we love Saint Paul and I so loved my choir job at Prospect Park United Methodist in Minneapolis.  Finances dictated a change to owning one house only and here we are.  I’m still in the midst of figuring it all out and can’t believe what an emotional upheaval it’s been.  After all, it’s just a house–right????

St. Paul backyard

Gab and Tuck were both puppies in CO

While we are born midwesterners through and through (Dave from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and me from the south suburbs of Chicago)–and adore the four seasons, as well as the Twin Cities culture, we have always just sunk into the beauty and comfort of our ranch house in Colorado.  At night in bed in the middle of a frozen Minnesota winter night, I’d walk through the Colorado house in my mind–poring over each room, looking out each window, nearly crying that no one was there.  Come holidays or summers when the choir was off, we’d drive out west with Miss Gab and Tucker, and I often sobbed in relief as I walked into the house.  I spent hours on the living room couch, reading and dreaming out over the city of Colorado Springs, which spreads just east of our property.  On a clear day, you can see forever.  I often watched Dave’s planes take off from the airport which is over 13 miles away.  The same distance in the opposite direction brings views of approaching winter storms from the north or, in the case of this last summer, fires from the northeast in Black Forest.    Step Inside this House–sung by Lyle Lovett.

And while it appears idyllic (“Oh, Colorado is so beautiful!”), and often is, it can be a harsh environment.  Bears, coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion make it through our neighborhood.  Right now, we have a bear family traveling between our houses, snacking on available garbage, charging people and dogs and simply refusing to hibernate.   In other words, sitting outside at night in the summer  is best done on the deck with quick access to the house through a strong door!   Fires — and recent floods — are often our frightening nearby companions.  Sudden winter storms create havoc and, here in the ‘hood, mean walking home up the steep icy hill unless you have a great four-wheel drive vehicle.

Stollen cooling on the east deck
Photo: Mama bear and young in neighbor's backyard
bear photo borrowed from a neighbor

Cooking and baking  at 6,300 feet above sea level can be a consummate challenge.  Bread left out ten minutes can be as dry as toast; cookies must be eaten that day or frozen.  Many recipes must be adapted, though I’m pretty intuitive about it by now. Thanksgiving dinner WILL be begun really early or you won’t eat until late–as I found out when we first moved here in 1996 and ate at 7 instead of 4.  There’s little to be grown in sand or bedrock when it doesn’t rain for 9 months at a time.  Cooking local Colorado food means bison, lamb, trout, Rocky Ford cantaloupe and western slope peaches and cherries.  Southwest of us are irrigated apple orchards, but it isn’t unusual for them to produce very little any given year.  Gardening right on your own patch isn’t so simple with hardly any good dirt and strict watering restrictions.  I will say that some micro-climates within the city of Colorado Springs limits have abundant gardens, but they’re the exception.   Example:  We save every bit of water and reuse it.  When I make pasta, the water is cooled and used to water plants.   A little leftover water in a water bottle is tipped into the flower pots or herb garden as I walk into the house.  We can catch no rain water (if and when it rains) because it’s against the law.

Photo: :)
Dave with grandson, Rhyan.  One of the joys of living in Colorado is our son Sean and family are here–living with us temporarily while their house is being renovated.
But it’s all part of the challenge of being a westerner, or a south westerner, I guess–and it’s usually worth it. Million-dollar sunsets over the front range, spectacular sunrises in the high plains, fall drives into the mountains to see the golden, whispering aspens, Rocky Mountain National Park in Denver’s backyard, world-class skiing, Rockies baseball, and the unarguably most beautiful interstate drive in the country (I-70 from Denver – Utah).  And if you live here, you embrace it for what it is.  (And if you’re like me, you travel to sea-level on a regular basis so you can see green.)
Sunrise in my backyard
What’s happened is that I’ve had to regroup my notion of “home.”  I’m no longer sure what it is.  Is it where I breathe the easiest?  Is it where my heart sings as that city comes into view from 10,000 feet?  Is it where I laugh with the most people?  Is it where I can earn a living or be in love with a choir?  Is it where the best orchestra plays or I can walk across the street to the corner bar?  Where I sink into a bed dipped into my own curves?  Or is it just where Dave and the dogs are–which can be right in our Subaru Forester?  It’s an on-going discussion in my heart and head. I’ll keep you posted.
Right before we left Saint Paul, our victory garden neighbor, Wendy, gave us another huge zucchini–the very last of the season. In my kitchen was a little leftover butternut squash and the final pick of tomatoes from our Minnesota garden.  I made a big skillet of curry that we ate off of for a couple of days; we had to pack and clean, not keep cooking.  This particular early-fall prize was so tasty I thought I’d share it with you.  It’s nothing too unusual and you can change out the veg to suit yourself or your larder.  There’s not much in the vegetable family that can’t be made into a fast curry supper and you can pretend you’re in the Indian restaurant downtown.  Here’s how:
butternut squash-zucchini curry with couscous
4 generous servings
  • 4 cups–give or take– cooked couscous  (I used 1 box Near East couscous with olive oil and garlic)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Large onion, chopped
  • Celery stalk, chopped
  • Red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced (don’t peel)
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped cooked butternut or acorn squash
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder*
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or a small pinch of cayenne, optional
  • 1/4 cup white wine or vegetable or chicken broth
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated or finely chopped ginger
  • 2 cups chopped cherry or regular tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup each chopped fresh basil and fresh parsley
Instructions:
1.  Cover couscous to keep warm while you make the curry.  Toast almonds in a small, dry pan over low heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Set couscous and almonds aside.
2.  Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan and add onions, celery, red bell pepper, carrots, zucchini, and butternut or acorn squash.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, curry powder, and crushed red pepper or cayenne, if using.  Let cook ten minutes or until softened, stirring regularly.  
3.  Stir in wine or broth and let cook down a few minutes, adding more if the vegetables appear dry.
4.  Add garlic, ginger, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, another two minutes or until garlic is fragrant, tomatoes are just softening, and other vegetables are tender.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
5.  To serve, spoon over or to the side of a cup of couscous for each serving.  Top with a few sliced almonds and a sprinkling of the chopped fresh basil and parsley.  Serve hot.  Cold or hot leftovers will be luscious for lunch.  (If you reheat the curry, you’ll need to add a bit more curry powder or seasonings.)
Cook’s Note:  For a more authentic Indian curry, you can add a little tomato paste and/or coconut to the vegetables.  For a Thai style, add coconut milk and/or lime juice. (Skip my wine!) Everyone makes their curried vegetables a bit differently; my versions come from American trial and error cooking.  Do a bit of googling and see what kind of curry you might like best; there are many different kinds.
*Curry Powder comes in many varieties in the United States.  I think the most important thing about it is to use fresh curry powder.  If it’s sat a while, buy new.  Penzey’s Spices sells several sorts of curry powder and I used half Maharajah Curry Powder and half Sweet Curry Powder.  You can, of course, make your own curry powder by blending a variety of spices—you can grind them yourself–to suit your taste.  Google  “Making curry powder” or check out the CHOW recipe.
                                         
                                                                       ***

If you liked this, you might also like my curried peppers and tomatoes on rice with grilled chicken or cooking in a time of grief

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”   — John Muir

Sing a new song,Alyce

Curried Cauliflower or I Can’t Play my Piano

Curried Cauliflower or I Can’t Play my Piano

 At Thanksgiving, when cauliflower is so very dear (and it’s supposed to still be in season), I’ll wish I’d bought a few extra heads in September.  Made a little gratinee with lots of garlic, cream, and Swiss cheese.  Thrown in an extra casserole for Jeanne.  Maybe even made some cauliflower soup–even though it’s so very easy and is even good made with frozen cauliflower.  Once in a while I get it all done, but not this year.  The basement freezer isn’t bought, though it’s on the list (after paying the floor guy and the radiator repair guy) and I expect  it’s not too far in the future.  But right now, we’re eating what I cook and not putting much away for the winter. I did sneak a big bag of blueberries into the side-by-side and have a couple of on sale whole chickens (for chicken noodle soup) down in the bottom.

Make-do steamer.

I’m not much for raw cauliflower.  I’m not saying I don’t eat it from the raw vegetable platter; I do.  But the mealy, cabbagy sensation isn’t what I’m after; it’s not my favorite.  But steam it, stew it, boil it, roast it, fry it and I’m all over it.  I don’t care if it’s a bit crispy or grandma-done; I like it.  This curried dish is a mix of two preparations.  First you  briefly steam it. Next you saute some sliced onions and garlic with curry powder.

Then add the steamed cauliflower..

Stir and cook until quite golden and nearly tender. 

Curried Cauliflower

1 head fresh cauliflower, cleaned, cored, and cut into florets
2T olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp curry powder (Penzey’s has a great variety; try a couple of different ones.)
Kosher salt, pepper, and ground cayenne (if your curry isn’t too hot)

Steam cauliflower in a veggie steamer (or in the microwave) for about seven minutes, until just losing its crispness.  Meantime, in a large skillet, heat oil and saute onions for 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic, curry powder and sprinkle with salt, pepper and ground cayenne, if using.  Add steamed cauliflower and stir well.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until cauliflower is nearly tender.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  (To increase cooking speed, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the skillet and cover for a  minute or two.)  Serve hot.

———————

At least that’s what I did.  And walked the five steps to the dining room to eat it paired with a little steak Dave and I had.  That’s as far as we can go because the couch is in the dining room, too, due to floor repair and refinishing in the living room.  Where the piano is.

Can’t get to the piano.  Or the bedrooms.  Or the front door.

You could call it cozy.

If I climb over the couch, and land in the perfect place, I can quickly scoot over and land on the piano bench.  If.  I haven’t tried it.  If we didn’t have dogs, we would be able to walk through the living room tomorrow.  If. But we do have dogs, so we’re waiting until Wednesday.  Sleeping in the basement where we can watch tv lying in our great (no, really, it is) sofa bed.

Next they’re tearing up the kitchen floor (6 layers?) down to the sub floor in order to lay a new wood floor.  And, yes, the stove and frig must come out for a two week period.  Ought to be interesting in our dining room; that’s where they’ll go.  I love fixing up old houses, don’t you?

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

Came home Friday to find Alvin running around the kitchen….

                          He jumped up in the window and I closed him in there.  Quick thinking, huh?   The floor guy, aka Bob,  had left the door open.  This chipmunk, aka Alvin, has been in our yard all summer, eating the painter’s lunches and jumping out into the path, scaring the crap out of us.  Our painter and friend, Chris, kept telling us that chipmunk was too smart for his own good and was going to get in the house.  We laughed.  Until Friday.

Still, all was well.  We finally snuck open the bottom of the window, pushed the screen out, reclosed the window and went around outside to pull the screen out and watch him fly through the air into the still-blooming (really) day lilies.  None the worse for wear, he yelled as he passed my head, “Just wanted to see what you’d done with the house.”

Still picking flowers from our yard.
Snuggin’
Not quite the last rose of summer, but nearly.

Meantime, come sing your heart out at Prospect Park United Methodist over in Minneapolis.  We worship at 9:30 am and have coffee and then Sunday School after that.  Wander over and see what we’re up to next Saturday, October 1 at 7pm when we present “Pops and Pies,” a toe-tappin’ evening of music followed by scrumptious pie and, of course, coffee…

Pie, me oh my:  I love pie.

Sing a new song,
Alyce

Pasta with Eggplant and Pancetta

Pasta with Eggplant and Pancetta

What’s in your frig?  Make pasta for a cool fall evening.  Pancetta helps.

We lived for four years in Dayton, Ohio.  How at home I felt there.  The flora and fauna welcomed me warmly (and coldly) as, indeed, the atmosphere felt just like northern Illinois where I grew up.  The summers were wilting (and our air conditioning never worked right) and the winters were damned cold.  Gray.  A long period of waiting for spring was how some approached it.  I felt differently.  I adore late fall; Thanksgiving is my favorite season.  I’m entranced with Advent and greet it positively every year, knowing my walk to the stable will be a new one.  Again.

But, in Ohio, summer seemed to disappear without a trace one wet day in October.  It happened in such a way that a week or two later, you wondered what had happened.  There were weeks of cool, sunny times and God’s great leaves flying.  Lovely Saturdays at the farm watching cider being pressed.  Nights on hayrides with bonfires later for hot dogs.  A morning you dug out the sweaters.  Any time, though, an 80 degree day could still pop up.  Really.  And then, one day on the way to work, you knew that day wasn’t appearing.  At all.  Anymore.  It had been raining for a week or two, getting colder all the time.  It just rained itself right into winter.  And gray it was.

We’re on the edge of that here.  Mostly the days are still perfect.  A light sweater or short jacket needed sometimes.  Flowers still in bloom—somewhat.  The yard is drooping mightily, though, and the window boxes have definitely seen better days.  I broke down and bought mums and pansies, but haven’t gotten them all out yet.  And, truthfully, taking care of the yard (and watering) is beginning to seem like yesterday’s diapers.  But today it’s rainy and there’s no sun.  At all.  Gabby still has her head hanging out by the window in case that German Shepherd or Black Lab has the nerve to walk by on the sidewalk.  But soon she gives up and puts her head down on the rug near my chair.  The other doggies are staying home more these days.

The oven can stay on for bread now.

What will I do with these?

Why does it have to rain, Mom?

Droop.

 A bunch of green tomatoes appeared on the back porch from the gardening neighbor.  We won’t have enough sun or heat to ripen them.   I go around turning lights on during the day.  Think of making a big pot of beef vegetable soup.  Planned activities are a girls’ night at Scusi and then out to a movie.  Not a picnic or outdoor concert or backyard cook-out.  This morning I ordered a long down coat and tall, warm boots.  I’m looking for a freezer so I can make Christmas cookies ahead for Drop in and Decorate.  We’re getting our floors redone before snow flies.  That’s what time it is.

 

Oh, we’re not at the point of storing the patio furniture.   Or of skipping Saturday breakfast on the porch.  But it’s coming.  And I’ve just woken up to it.  I still get up and put on capris and flip flops.  Sometimes I change.  Not always.

Last night, it was cold enough for a filling and warm dinner of whatever’s in frig for pasta.  I occasionally blog these instant meals (and lately I’m doing it often) because that’s how so many of us have to eat.  If we can even get THAT much cooked.  I have friends who are happy to have time to pull out cheese, apples, and crackers because that’s all there’s time or energy for.  But listen, 15-20 minutes will give you this admirable and filling meal.  You’ll be busy the whole time, but you can put on Vivaldi while you do it and you’ll definitely have time to set the table in a welcoming way.
 

Well maybe not quite like this, but why not set an attractive table?

 If you must (and who knows?), throw all of the vegetables in the food processor (except the tomatoes) and get it done even faster.  (Note:  I keep chopped pancetta on my freezer door all of the time.  There’s almost nothing it won’t do.  And, yes, a bit of American bacon will work.)

As this is more a method than a recipe, I write it in steps.  Read it through to understand the process and then make it yourself.  Boil the pasta, fry the pancetta (or bacon or ham), add vegetables, garlic and herbs, put it together and serve with cheese.  So there.  Maybe you need read no further.  But go on.

Pasta with Eggplant and Pancetta  serves 2  generously with a bit leftover for someone’s lunch

1.  Put a covered 10 quart stockpot 3/4 full of salted and peppered water on to boil. Sprinkle with a pinch of crushed red pepper and dried oregano.  Add  1/2 # whole wheat pasta when the water is boiling and cook about 10-11 minutes until al dente.  Drain and reserve.
2.  Meantime, in a large, deep skillet, brown about 1/4 cup of chopped pancetta or bacon.  When it’s crisp, remove it to a plate lined with paper towels.   Leave fat from pancetta in the pan.
3.  Into that same pan, add 1 large chopped onion, 1 large chopped carrot, 1 chopped medium yellow squash or zucchini, 1/2 cup chopped, peeled eggplant, 1/2 sliced or whole fresh spinach leaves,  and 1/2 cup chopped red or yellow pepper.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste) and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.  Vegetables can be changed to suit what’s in your crisper.  I do think you need onions, garlic, something for bulk like squash or eggplant, and fresh herbs of some sort.
4.  Cook vegetables until they’re softened and add 3 cloves garlic, minced.  Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add 2 chopped ripe tomatoes (or a cup of cherry tomatoes) and 1/4 cup chopped parsley and/or basil.  Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper.  Return pancetta to the pan and stir well. 
5. Add drained pasta to skillet.  Mix and toss well, using tongs, and taste for seasoning.
6. Serve in pasta bowls with grated  Parmesan or Romano cheese at the table.

Wine:  We had a little Barbera leftover from burgers on the grill, so we drank that.  A big Chardonnay would work, as would Zinfandel or even a Cabernet Sauvignon.  While we think of big reds as the province of big meats, they stand up and support a hearty, vegetable-filled pasta–especially if it’s topped with a strong cheese like Parmesan or flavored with a warm, deep meat like pancetta.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

The singing fellowship:

Choir came to lunch Saturday.  Chicken chili, sangria, brownies.

Good bud Kim all but moved in to the kitchen to keep things going.  Love you, Kim!

Nope, we didn’t sing.  Just visited and ate.  Rested our pipes.

Fall–Time for Grooming.   Didn’t much like it.  But they looked good for the choir.

Exhausted after their baths and trims.  What did we have to do that for? And what’s with the bandanas?

 My life is currently full of playing catch-up at work.  Reading all the fall lectionary texts so I can choose appropriate music.  Off and on for a couple of weeks, the dining room table is full of music, bibles, notes, computer, etc.  I run back and forth trying to familiarize myself with the music library at church.  What’s there?  What’s possible to learn (and do well) with only two rehearsals?  Listening to anthems online. Listening to the choir.  Attending one lectionary study at Cabrini Catholic church  and one Bible Study with the neighborhood women.  Praying for a co-worker, who had to undergo emergency surgery.  Looking at a choir retreat in November.  Dreaming of the cantata much later than I typically do.  And I’m sooo excited and…

 I’m so busy …  Being grateful, grateful, grateful for the opportunity.  Thanks, God.

Sing a new song,
Alyce

Chicken, Chicken, Chicken or It’s Still Hot Around Here

Chicken, Chicken, Chicken or It’s Still Hot Around Here

 

Don’t know what to do with chicken?  How about cook it?

I simply don’t know how to do anything without doing it with all my heart.  In fact, I don’t.  Unless it’s washing sheets (yes, I’ll do it today), cleaning the stairs (twice a week with golden retrievers), driving through construction (not on googlemaps, of course), going to the DMV, shopping for a pair of black pants at Macy’s (How many places could black pants be and how much should I pay?), or picking up the trash folks leave in my yard (the price for living in the city.)  I mean, boredom or even half-heartedness is not interesting and I don’t learn or grow from it.  Thriving on change is a good way to live.  Especially since change is the way things are.  The new normal.  Change, in fact, is the status quo.  Hmm.

So when I look at the stack of chickens in my freezer (Book club friend’s husband has a tie to great organic, free-range poultry and the order just came a couple of weeks ago.) and go, “Oh, no!” I rear my head in disappointment at myself and begin dreaming chicken.

With tomatoes
With pasta
In the oven
On the grill
On potatoes
Poulet au vin blanc (chicken with white wine)
In soup
Con poblanos  (with green chiles)
Next to asparagus
For sandwiches
TACOS!!
In the crock pot
Snuggled up in noodles, celery, and onions

In a world where the hungry numbered 925 million in 2010, I am embarrassed that how I cook chicken is even a topic.  I do indulge myself on this blog, however, and go on after breathing deeply.

The other night, I just couldn’t come up with anything terribly new and entertaining for chicken (in the summer) and just began throwing the parts into the pan.  They’d get done, wouldn’t they?  We’d eat, wouldn’t we?  But, wait:  first the parts should be seasoned very well with salt and pepper.  (Leaving out an entrancing snout-full of pepper is what people often do with chicken.  And it’s pale and insipid and oh, you fill in the blank.  Same for salt.  Poultry HAS to be well-seasoned, whatever you choose to do it with.  Particularly if you’re eating it as is or the poultry is of the very inexpensive sort.)   And, oh, let’s roll into the pan some fragrant olive oil if we’re just cooking it any which old way.

As this what-the-hell supper began to cook, here’s what it looked like:

You know the drill; you have the picture.   Well, I don’t know what you do with yours, but I’m not standing there watching chicken cook.  I had other fish to fry.  (Right.)  After it browned well on both sides (a good 5-7 minutes each side over medium-high heat), I threw that sucker in the oven to finish cooking for another 20-25 minutes or so:

And wondered what else was for dinner.  Just like you.  A quick bang of the pantry and frig doors showed pasta, rice, capers, carrots, yellow squash, celery, lemon, and feta.  On the counter were onions and garlic because in Alyce’s kitchen, God (and a gardening neighbor) is good and those things are always there.  A glass full of basil sat at the sink.  Mint’s in a pot next to the tub of rosemary (that needed water so badly it looked like a Christmas tree in January) outside my backdoor.  And because there’s a difference between eating and enjoying the meal with my husband, I began to grab pots, knives, cutting board, and so on.  It soon appeared that an orzo salad was coming together as orzo cooks quickly and is a great home for savory and piquant additions.  And oh how I love olives! with orzo and feta.  No olives, though, more’s the pity.  Capers would have to suffice unless I wanted to sprint to the store during rush hour.  Probably not.  Before the chicken was done, the salad was ready:

So you have the idea of the chicken.   Season well, brown throughly on both sides, and finish in a moderate (350 F) oven until quite browned and juices run clear or thermometer registers 165 F.  Unsure about temperatures, read the USDA guidelines–very simple.  While the chicken is in the oven, cook the orzo and chop the veg and cheese.  While this chicken with an orzo salad isn’t an instant meal, it’s fairly quick and hits the major food groups in a tasty way.  And, hey!   There would be leftovers for lunch.  Yum leftovers.  Who isn’t, after all that, glad to reach in the frig and pull out a piece of chicken come noon?

Take the time to season this baby (the orzo salad) lovingly.  It takes a bit of thought, and trial/error, but you can go from “Yeah, that’s ok” to “Wow!” with attention, care, and a bit of knowledge.  Generally the wow factor comes from one of these:

The best ingredients you can find
Thorough, but not over-seasoning
Not over-cooking
Use fresh herbs (usually at the very end before serving)
Appropriate addition of acid (in this case lemon juice)

If you’re unsure, take a small portion, add the questionable ingredient and try it.  See if that’s going to make the difference.  Take three small portions and try three techniques…which do you like?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by this process. So here’s how I did it this time:

Alyce’s Orzo Salad on That Day (amounts are approximate)   Serves 4 (as does a whole chicken)

1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup each chopped finely diced carrots or cucumber,  and yellow squash
1/4 cup chopped celery 
2 cloves garlic smashed and finely minced (or more to taste)
2T minced red onion
2T ea chopped fresh mint and basil
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
Pinch of oregano
1T capers (or a small handful of chopped kalamata olives)
1/2 t grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and pepper to taste (try just a bit of salt at first as capers and feta are salty)
Big pinch of crushed red pepper
1T white or red wine vinegar
3T extra virgin olive oil, divided (You’ll use some to flavor the hot orzo and some later for dressing.)
Juice of half a lemon
Optional:  Top with 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes and a sprinkle of pine nuts or toasted chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Cook orzo according to package directions and drain well.  Pour the orzo into a mixing bowl and stir in 1 T of the olive oil.  Sprinkle with just a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Add vegetables (including garlic and onions), feta, herbs, oregano, capers or olives, and lemon zest.  Stir well.
  3. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Taste and reseason.
  4. Sprinkle with vinegar and stir. Drizzle in other two tablespoons of olive oil and stir again.  Add tomatoes and nuts, if using.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  5. Squeeze lemon over all.
  6. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.  Store leftovers in refrigerator, tightly covered, for 2-3 days.

Another cook might have added finely chopped fennel, marinated artichokes, green peppers, jicama….and so on.  

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

 
It isn’t quite the last rose of summer (above), but there are moments, despite the heat, that I want to run to each flower and smell each one up close while I can.  I bravely planted some new things last week near the perennial hibiscus in my corner garden.  I’ll show you when they bloom.  (Please bloom.)

What else I’m cooking: 

       I’m considering some new recipes for those who are in the healing process or need softer meals:
  

A lovely butternut (and other) squash soup with thyme for garnish.

 A healthier, chock-full of stuff zucchini bread is in the works and you’ll read about it here first.

Whole wheat zucchini bread with dried cherries, raisins, nuts and bits of dark chocolate for your heart.

 About the house:

And will it look like this again?  Guess so.

  I am finally getting my house to make sense nearly three months after the moving truck arrived.  While the kitchen, bedrooms and dining room quickly fell into place (though bedding and tablecloths still seem to be in short supply), the living room defied taming.  A small, but pleasant light teal room that has a 3-season porch attached and boasts a bright, clean piano window (Thanks to my friend, Chris Brown:), it just made me shake my head (read that want to puke) whenever I took the time to look at it.  Now my living room, unlike some, is in constant use.  I often work at home and am at the piano or on the couch (with the good lamp) reading and studying.  I run between the pots in the kitchen to the hymnal on the stand to the computer to write and I need that room to not only be comfortable, but to be feng shuied mighty fine.  I nurse a glass of wine in there while enjoying the  Sunday New York Times sometimes in the evening.   (I never get it done on Sundays.)  I sit and read while Dave naps with his head on my lap.  The dogs have their favorite spot on the wool rug.  To say nothing of sharing a cup of coffee with a friend.   But the room had its own ideas about itself and it wanted to be tilted in the direction of what appeared to be a huge (it is) piano and a squeezed in sofa with two chairs nearly on top of one another in the corner with a beautiful table that cried, “Get rid of me.  I’m too crowded.”  It made my lip curl like Elvis and my brow crease like Bruce Willis when he’s in a real tight place.  I said nasty stuff about my furniture.  Talked about paying designers.  Wrote friends who WERE designers. Hemmed and hawed.  (What is hemmed and hawed?)

They aren’t concerned about what color the walls are; they just want to be together.  Rightly so.  Love dogs!

 Our physical selves often mimic our emotional or spiritual circumstances and, in this case, it was exactly so.  (Thanks to old friend Rev. Virginia Memmott for knowing that.)  As long as I hithered and thithered and dithered about the move, living in Minnesota , the hot summer, our Colorado house, the need for a job, etc, I couldn’t settle down enough to “see” how things had to be.

Living room the day the truck arrived

 One day last week, after receiving word of my new choir director job at Prospect Park United Methodist (Come sing!), I just walked in there, started moving stuff, called Dave down to pound nails in the walls for artwork, and found a way for that room to be arranged that not only made sense, but was downright charming.  After a day or so, I also saw that the light had changed.  The walls were more awake and you could read more easily as the sun was now in its late August position.   No more cave feeling.  And I like it.  And so there, room.  And, while it’s still hot outdoors, my eyes fall upon space that is welcoming, comfortable, and full of the things I love.  I didn’t have to go buy all new furniture or consign the art; I just had to give myself time to breathe and want the space to work.  Thanks, God.

A bit more welcoming, huh?

 Below:  Late hostas blooming on the east side of the house.  In other places, leaves are falling and the acorns crunch underfoot.  The acorns are even falling on the patio table that sits below a maple tree.  Now there IS an oak tree in the yard next door.  And somehow the acorns are moving from the oak to the maple and falling on us during dinner. 
  

 

Sing a new song,
Alyce

Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake

Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake

Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake–Made and photographed this year in St. Paul

I don’t double blog.  Or if I do, I do it rarely.

This cake, however, belongs on both blogs.  I’ve made it for Dave’s birthday since l984 and for lots of other occasions since.  In different reincarnations.  Chocolate, pumpkin, toffee, cranberry compote.  You get the idea.

Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs (I prefer vanilla wafer crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Filling

                                                           Directions:
First:  Mix crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and butter and press into a 10″ spring form pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  1.  Preheat oven to 500º.  Make sure your oven is clean before you start!
  2.  Beat cream cheese with electric mixer in large bowl until very smooth. Blend in lemon juice and vanilla. Sift sugar, flour and salt together and gradually beat into cheese. Beat until creamy, smooth and light, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs and yolks one at a time. Blend in cream. Pour into crust.  Place filled pan on a  baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.  
  3.  Bake 12 minutes.
  4.  Reduce oven temperature to 200º. Continue baking until tester inserted in centre comes out clean. The original recipe said for 45 minutes but I find it takes much longer–an hour and a half or more.  Keep testing. (You can also set the oven at 300 and it’s less time–perhaps only 65 minutes.  I think the 200 might have been a typo??)
  5.  Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan. Cool cake completely and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving.

 

 

Note:  In July, 2016 Dave and I took a week-long Alaskan cruise and our last night was in Victoria, British Columbia. You know where we went for dinner:

IMG_4020The meal was lovely, the service attentive, and the cheesecake divine. Dave said it wasn’t as good as mine. But he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Bake on,
alyce
Melissa Clark’s Greek Goddess Dip — Again–for Holiday Fun

Melissa Clark’s Greek Goddess Dip — Again–for Holiday Fun

Sugar snap peas (blanched), new broccoli, and tiny baby bok choy were fun additions to the usual veggie “platter.”

At Super Bowl time a couple of years ago, Melissa Clark, in her NYT Good Appetite column, wrote up a great dip that I immediately made and took to a Super Bowl party.  While I bring many pots of herbs in for the winter, I didn’t have the needed parsley, dill, and basil.  (Rosemary, thyme, mint, sage–yes)  Buying plastic packages of herbs mid-winter is tediously expensive, but I did it.  A party.  Special occasion.   I thought at the time, I have to remember to make this in the summer.  Herbs are cheap or growing in the garden and the farmer’s market vegetables are luscious.

And here we are.  It’s summer.  Friends were coming for the evening.  And I remembered this dip.  Thanks, Melissa!  (If you haven’t read her newest solo book, it’s full of great recipes and want-more stories.  Wondering what you’ll take to the Fourth of July cookout?  Look no further.  Get your sous to cut the veg; you throw the dip in the food processor.   Done.

In October, she’s got another (order early) book out:   Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make.  


Melissa Clark’s Greek Goddess Dip

1/2 cup packed fresh dill

1/2 cup packed fresh mint
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/3 cup packed fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise, optional
Raw chopped vegetables or pita chips, for serving.


1. Place dill, mint, parsley, basil, garlic, scallions, lemon juice and salt in a food processor and process until finely chopped.
2. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Add feta and process until smooth; pulse in yogurt. Taste dip and add more salt, if desired. If you like a creamier, richer dip, add mayonnaise and pulse to combine.
3. Serve dip immediately with vegetables or pita chips or cover and store in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

These are my changes, etc:  Yes to a bit more salt.  I also added a few grounds of freshly ground black pepper, as well as a few drops of Tabasco.  I skipped the mayo to keep it a bit lighter and healthier.   The first time through,  I made my own pita chips–so much better than the ones in the bag.  (Cut up strips of pita bread,  sprayed them wih Pam, sprinkled on sesame seeds/salt/pepper.  Baked for 12 minutes or so in 350 degrees F til brown.)  Note:  If you keep the dip overnight, it thickens. 

This time, I made no pita chips.   The veg from the market was plenty and we had a filling meal ahead.  If you have tons of dill, basil, etc.,  this garlic-filled, spicy herb dip will be your summer staple.  It goes together all in the food processor and you could vary the herbs or leave some out depending on how your garden grows.  Simple, fresh and for Fourth of July?  You’re now ready to roll.  Do leave the dip in a bowl of ice (change often) to keep it cool out there.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood
Just some summer stuff.  Have cooked, but have been busy.  It’s all good!

Two beers we tried on Lake Superior.  One–a Winter Ale:  yum.

At the cabin.

Making eggs in the hole.  Mary Pat calls them “mouse in the hole.”

Caribou Lake

Chilling at Gun Flint Tavern in Grand Marais

Father’s Day at Sue’s

Friend Rocky resting.
Does your heart good, huh?

Dave with his Tucker

Love my window boxes on south side.

 My fresh strawberry pie with berries from the farmer’s market–recipe and directions on examiner.com

Here it is with my tiny driveway berries.  Has  a lemon-scented crust.

Just working on fried rice–here’s the snap pea version.  Talk about good.  Wrote it up on examiner.com.
Wally–doing the dishes.
Gab and Tuck with friend Mac:   Dogs just want to have fuh-un.
Use ’em or lose em.
Recent Dinner Place blogpost on  Poached Egg Chef’s Salad
Early summer south yard.

Farmer’s market sugar snaps–manna.

 Sing a new song,
Alyce

Pasta Primavera with New Peas, Ramps, Leeks, Asparagus, et al or I Guess I’m Home Because the Cream Soups are Unpacked

Pasta Primavera with New Peas, Ramps, Leeks, Asparagus, et al or I Guess I’m Home Because the Cream Soups are Unpacked

If you have a yard surrounded by old lilacs, spring is a good time for a dinner party.
And, if it’s spring, it’s a good time for Pasta Primavera (Spring Pasta).
And, if it’s time for Pasta Primavera, it’s a good time for pink wine.  French rosé.  Or Oregon rosé.

You needn’t be picky about the wine, though it must be dry and young (2010).  It shouldn’t cost much–not more than $15 and often much less.  Just make sure you have enough.  A variety of choices would be a kind gesture to both you and your guests.

And if you were really loving that day, you might make an appetizer platter of tapenade and local goat’s cheese blended with fresh basil and grated lemon rind.  Some proscuitto and tiny tomatoes make the plate.
The rosé will be quite stunning with that goat’s cheese.  Promise.

I’m sold lately on lemon ice cream.  In fact, it’s a perfect solution to dessert.

Picture taken later after the ice cream had been in the freezer.

I used a recipe from epicurious. com (Gourmet, 1993), though I didn’t use as much sugar.  I thought 2/3 c was plenty and it was.  The brightness and/or sourness of the lemon can easily be overwhelmed by too much sugar. (Click on the purple recipe.)  Note that the mixture must be made ahead, cooked briefly, chilled very well, and have more half and half added right before freezing.

About the Primavera... you could look up twenty recipes for Primavera and they’d all be different, except that they should all have spring vegetables of some sort (leeks, ramps, scallions, peas, asparagus, baby greens, fennel, etc.).  If you go to the farmer’s markets now (when you think there’ll be nothing), you should find some spring vegetables.  If not, pick up your favorites at the grocery and use those.

A gorgeous fennel bulb..use the fronds for garnish.  There’s a core here much like in cabbage.  Cut it out and slice the fennel into half moons.

Fresh pea shoots–leaves, shoots, and tendrils from pea plants.  Yummy greens.

 The basic directions (serves 4) that would include your choice of vegetables  would look like this (and I don’t think the Primavera police are out tonight if you want to change the process):

Ramps–quite like scallions

 

1.  Bring a big pot of salted, peppered, and herbed pasta water to a boil.  (Fresh herbs only–parsley, if it’s all you have. Parsley’s a perfect herb and quite nutritious.) Lower the heat to low until you need the water in a few minutes.  That is,  unless you’ve timed it perfectly. Ha.
2.  Meantime, in a large, deep skillet, saute in a tablespoon of olive oil a half cup of sliced something(s) from the onion family:  scallions, leeks, ramps (kind of like green onions…sort of between them and lilies of the valley), a mixture…even a bit of garlic, though just a bit–say 1 clove, minced.  I would include fennel here (another half cup if you have it) as it requires a similar cooking time. Do not brown these vegetables, just cook until softened.  A shake of salt and pepper wouldn’t come wrong here.  Remove them from the pan and reserve.
3.  Add a bit more oil, heat it to medium-high, and cook a cup of freshly sliced mushrooms for three or four minutes until golden.  They needn’t be –though they could be!–expensive; button mushrooms will do.  Don’t salt them til later.  Do, however, add a tablespoon or so of fresh chopped herbs to them  and pepper it all lightly.  (I like marjoram, but rosemary or thyme is so good, too.)  Remove them from the pan and add to the onion  mixture.  Note:  Like meat, you must leave mushrooms unmoved for best browning.  Don’t stir until well-browned on one side.  Watch closely!
4.  A little more oil, medium heat, and cook 1/2 cup each new peas (or frozen if you can’t find new), chopped asparagus, chopped haricots verts (very slim green beans), even a bit of zucchini or yellow squash sliced thinly–despite the fact that they are summer vegetables.  We’ll let you slide by with it.  After they’ve cooked a couple of minutes, add 1T cup each of your favorite fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, etc.) and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper.   Throw in the onion-mushroom mixture, taste and adjust seasoning,  and set aside.  These vegetables should be just barely done…not crunchy like a salad, but not granny-done, either.

5.  Cook your pound of  pasta as directed (10 minutes for dried thin noodles like spaghetti or linguine…just a few minutes for fresh), drain it and add it the vegetables.  Mix well.  I do not believe in the ubiquitious addition of pasta water here.
6.  If desired, a 1/2 cup – 1 cup of very fresh ricotta can be included here, as well as 1/2c-1 c fresh baby greens (pea shoots, baby spinach, watercress…).  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (Good cold, too.)
7.  Pass Parmesan (you’ll need 1-2 cups grated), chopped parsley, cherry tomatoes (heirlooms are tasty), and white pepper at the table.

Alternatively, and much more quickly, you might try this method for ease of preparation:  Bring a 10-12 qt (2/3 full) pot of well-seasoned water to boil; add 1 lb pasta and cook 7-8 minutes.  Throw in peas, chopped asparagus, chopped green beans, etc. and continue cooking 2 more minutes.  Drain well and drizzle with olive oil. Add a handful of mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, etc.), 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, and 1/4 c sliced green onions.  If you like ricotta, and have some, stir in 1/2-1 cup.  Season quite liberally with salt and pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Serve hot and  pass a generous bowl of Parmesan and a grinder for black pepper around the table.  

Nothing like fresh ricotta.

This is a fun meal to make if you like interactive dinners.  Have each guest bring their favorite vegetable, cleaned and chopped.  Someone who doesn’t cook can bring a couple of different rosés.  Let a strong person grate the cheese, a detail-oriented friend supervise the pasta, and definitely get a wino to make sure everyone tastes all the wines.  The ice cream can be put into the freezer (if it’s a small one) when you sit down to dinner.

If you’re a fan of Mark Bittman (NYT), as am I, here’s a link to his recent take (and ideas for variations) on Primavera, which he contends is American.  Who am I to argue with Mark Bittman?  Mr. Bittman also has ideas for pastas that, since they require fewer ingredients (and seldom meat), are pretty inexpensive.  Which is always good.

Well–all that said:

It’s spring.  The flowers are in bloom.  Sit outdoors if it’s not too cold.  Put spring flowers on the table and think loving thoughts. 

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

The house is still in process, but crystal is in the china cabinet, boxes are out of the living room, and I am walking, gardening, and practicing again.  

I must be home.  The cream soups are here.

House being prepared for paint.

 St. Paul Farmer’s Market Scallions
Made rhubarb pie yesterday…may blog it!  From…

Farmer’s market rhubarb.

Flowers at the market downtown–a fine way to spend Saturday morning.

Our side yard (south)

Front yard tree.

  Our house from the north.

Our driveway garden becoming a jungle.

I’m planting herbs, columbines, tomatoes, impatiens, pansies, alyssum…and looking for more light in the yard!

 Happy Spring as you sing a new song, my friends!
Alyce

It’s Spring and a Girl’s Thoughts turn to…. Lamb and Lilacs

It’s Spring and a Girl’s Thoughts turn to…. Lamb and Lilacs

   A couple of weeks’ spate of travel, moving trucks, and unpacking have denied me blogging time, but I’m back.  As I write, the books are still stacked, the dishes are in disarray, the painters are scraping merrily and loudly, and the most recent house guests just took off for the interstate.  The crazy life has left us reaching into our back pockets for meals we can fix blindfolded, and here’s an easy, elegant supper for a cool spring evening…

Grilled Lamb Chops and Roasted Carrots, Potatoes and Red Onions serves 4

12 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-2″ pieces on a decided angle
12 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half or quarters
2 large red onions, cut into eights (trim so blossom end is barely cut off- so onion pieces hold together)
4T fresh rosemary, minced
1t kosher salt; 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
1/4 c olive oil (Plain old oil is fine–needn’t be extra virgin.)

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place vegetables on a large, rimmed baking sheet.  Toss with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Roast for 30-40 minutes until tender and crispy at edges.

8 lamb chops ( I like loin chops, but shoulder chops would do!),
3T olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat grill pan over high heat.  Meantime, brush lamb with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Place lamb chops on hot grill and cook 2-4 minutes each side, depending on how done you like your lamb.  2 minutes will be rare, 3 medium, etc.  You can also choose to grill for 1 minute and finish cooking the chops in the oven.  Whichever way you choose, you might want to test the temperature of the chops.  Not everyone will agree, but I think 130 degrees F is about medium…still pink, but not rare and not done.  Try 120 for rare and 140 for medium-well done.  Let meat rest 3-5 minutes before serving.

 Need something green?    Asparagus, of course.  Grill or steam–your choice.  It’s that time of year.

Taken last May at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

 Wine:    We drank an Aussie Shiraz with this meal.  Forefathers makes their McLaren Vale Shiraz moving toward spicy, but not terribly peppery.  Ours was an 05 and ready to go.
Dessert:  I hate to admit I made apple-raisin bread pudding, topped with a baby-sized slug of Asbach-Uralt (German brandy…Weinbrand, actually.) and a spoonful of ice cream.  What else do you do with old baguette?

 Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the New ‘Hood
  Our 100-year old lilac trees are about to burst the bounds of beauty..two more days til full-bloom.

You always knew I was a Bleeding Heart, right?

 

Just back from walk to the Mississippi River and back.

White Bleeding Hearts

Driveway tulips.

West side tulips and strawberries just beginning to bloom

Going outdoors–my favorite distraction.

Before clearing room for piano

How to put rugs down when the dirty floor is covered with boxes?

 

Who bought all those serving pieces and quiche dishes anyway?

The cookbooks start to go up.

From naturalized front yard

Unpacked books from boxes making way for piano

More cookbooks up

Piano window area cleared for piano delivery

Now you don’t see it, now you do.

The new big mess.

Office furniture delivered and installed…unpacking now

Our hundred-year old lilac trees beginning to bloom.  May 18, 2011.

Joyce Smith visits from Sandpoint

Almost bloomed tiny lilacs on trees.
All the way from Colorado Springs to The Groveland Tap…Sara loved it.

Mother’s Day Weekend in Princeton–Wine-Tasting Luncheon

Sing a new song,
Alyce

"Egg Salad" or Ah Gotta Code in mah Noz and TIME

"Egg Salad" or Ah Gotta Code in mah Noz and TIME

Egg Salad #2

 Living in a new place can do a lot of things to you.  You might retreat into comfortable behaviors and forms of communication. You might call your old friends every day. (Or you might want to.) You might surround  yourself with things that you know.  You might cook meals that are soft and warm.  Or not.  You might just take this opportunity to start anew.  I’ve done it all a bit.  For one, I’ve made chicken and noodles or chicken noodle soup three times in the last week, attempting to get a perfect recipe for a one hour meal.  I posted the first attempt here, but I continue.  The most recent (with boneless, skinless chicken thighs) is on examiner, for which I just included a link.   I’ve also made new and perfectly crisp AND soft  salads, replete with poached eggs.  Textures, textures.

Egg Salad #1–in examiner article

Newest attempt….Truly done in under an hour.  Way under if you use the food processor.

Being in St. Paul is a joyous venture and adventure.   Every day is something new, but that might be because it’s spring.  The icebergs have almost melted unless you live on the south side of the street!  The yard is waking up day by day.  Nothing’s in bloom (crocus blooms at the neighbors), but the bulbs are peeking their little heads up.

I couldn’t wait and bought these at the market.

 The birds, as I told our realtor, are nuts.   The previous owners fed them, and I’m continuing the insane practice.  Soon I know I’ll have thousands of little Jack Sparrows, Woody Woodpeckers, and “My Little Chickadees” flying around my kitchen windows.  I know this because I see the little biddies chomping around with bits of twigs and grass in their mouths.  I know what’s happening out there.  I have two jays who pop in, grab peanuts and depart making noises a little like Groucho Marx.  They are not sociable like the sparrows, who argue and kibitz at the trough all day long like old men in the coffee shop.  Not flighty like the chickadees who are easily scared off. (Boo!)  Not jealous like the male cardinal, who, until yesterday, wouldn’t share the feeder with anyone–not even his wife.  Yesterday, I did see him sharing and wanted to give him a little “high five.”

Jack Sparrow and friends in the side yard if you look carefully.
Girl cardinal mixing it up with the sparrows.

  I have very little around me that belongs to me.  I feel light.   While I have a decent percentage of my kitchen in  place (but not appliances I’m used to), I don’t have furniture that has my butt imprinted on it.  I have few clothes, which means laundry is simple.  There’s no piano here; no practicing.  My time is definitely my own; I have no job except for writing cooking articles for examiner.com in St. Paul.  The rooms of the house are pretty empty; I sweep them with a broom.  Wipe up the bathrooms and kitchen and I’m done with housework.  Hm.  

I didn’t bring one of these.

 In other words, I have time for dog walks. I often read a blog called, “Don’t Eat Alone” (you can find it on my blog roll to the right) by a guy named Milton Brasher-Cunningham in Durham, North Carolina.  There’s a great post this week about walking. I think it was Barbara Brown Taylor who called it, “the spiritual exercise of putting one foot in front of the other.”

“Come on, Mom.”

   Time to listen to Minnesota Public Radio ad infinitum, where I hear things I’ve never had time to hear before. (Chanticleer singing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ version of “Loch Lomond” for one.)  I hike on down the grocery (ok, it’s a block and a half) if I need an onion or a piece of meat.  (They have a great butcher counter and lovely butcher named Daniel.)  If I’m feeling flush, I mosey on over to Whole Foods (four blocks) or Coastal Seafood (four blocks) for fish or organic blueberries.  Time.

I’m told “Goof Off” gets paint off wood.  Right.

 I’m painting my office.  Slowly.   It’s Pepto Bismol pink and it’s on its way to becoming a whiter shade of pale.  I think it’s called “moss” and, really, it’s kind of a dusty teal.  In my next life, I’d like to be the person who plays timpani (only in the orchestra, thank you) or writes paint names. Either will do.  If I named this paint, it would be “a greener Robin’s egg blue”, which is why I don’t write paint names.

A local office designer is working on the furniture for my office and he sent me a chart of colors from which to choose the colors of my cabinets.  There are 25 colors, clearly visible, but the names are not legible over the computer.  I was so down.  I don’t know if I got Brackish Water or Dusty Sunset. 

Painting in an old house (ours is nearly 100 years old) is a physical and spiritual experience.  It’s a great way to get to know your house intimately.  Every wave in the wall.  Every slant in the floor.  (My office floor makes me tilt my head.)  Every color that went before.  Well, not every.  In fact, before the Pepto Bismol pink, that room was a LOVELY shade of water-filled, pale green.  I’m getting to know the carpenter who cut the wood for the door and window frames so long ago.  How perfect and meticulous he was (I’m safe in saying a he in 1911 maybe) with the available tools.  Did he know how long his doors would hold up?  Or that I would try so hard to not get paint on the windowsills?

There’s just something incredibly wonderful about being able to paint in the spring with the windows open and the music playing.  Spending the day with your hair in a bandana (shades of 1971), concentrating so hard on getting the green over the pink.  Hearing the street noises and trying to decipher them without looking.  Eating lunch on the the back steps in your sweatpants and the hub’s old black t-shirt full of paint smears.  Scrubbing the brushes at night, hoping they’ll dry by morning.   Living.

I just finished GOAT SONG by Brad Kessler, who has a lot to say about living.  Simply, GOAT SONG is a book about a guy and his wife (not so much about the wife) who leave New York behind and move to Vermont to raise a small herd of goats.  Now while that story sounds likely, simple, bona fide, and typical, it is, however, none of those.  Brad Kessler not only wants a different life, he claims it in a far-reaching, thoughtful and thought-provoking manner.   He’s a fine, fine writer.  He’s an historian and a spiritual guide.  He’s a cook.  He’s a cheese maker.  He looks at one hundred pieces of land before he chooses one.  He buys goats and brings them home in the car.  He falls in love with his goats and, while he teaches us the history of goat herding, we, too, fall in love.   The goats, in turn, fall in love with him.  He travels to France to learn goat cheese-making first hand and gets around to doing something tres, tres beautiful with that milk.  Because Brad only buys girl goats and if they have any boy goats, they get sold.  And that doesn’t begin to tell the story. What I mean is:  I have time to read.

I just started BLOOD, BONES, AND BUTTER:  The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef by  (Chef) Gabrielle Hamilton–just as good of a read, though light years away from Brad Kessler.  In common, they have a love of the land, our world, and food.  Sick as a dog with a wretched spring cold, I could not put down this book and fell asleep with it in my arms. Time.

If you came here for a recipe, I suppose I’d better give it to you.  This is a light lunch or first course for dinner done in 5-10 minutes.  Sweet and filling.  Crunchy and soft.  Make extra dressing and keep in the frig.  Note:  Dressing keeps longer without the shallots or onions.  And you can skip the dressing totally if you make the egg quite soft (runny) and use that as dressing.

“Egg Salad #2”  serves 2

4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
2 small tomatoes, sliced (Try the Mexican “brown” tomatoes–tasty and cheaper.)
2 carrots, sliced
1/4 c minced parsley
1/2 English cucumber, cut into thin half-moons
1t fresh lemon juice
2 poached eggs (slide raw eggs, each in a cup, into barely simmering water for 3-4 minutes til white is firm)

Dressing:  1 T balsamic vinegar, healthy pinch each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, 1t minced shallot or garlic, optional, 1/2 t honey, 1/4 t dijon-style mustard, 2T extra-virgin olive oil–Whisk salt into vinegar.  Whisk in all else, though drizzle in 1T olive oil at a time, being sure it’s incorporated well before adding the second,)

  1. Divide greens and vegetables between two large shallow bowls.  Drizzle equally with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Top with well-drained egg and drizzle with dressing.
  3. Serve with a piece of hot, buttered whole wheat toast.

 Sing a new song and enjoy spring,
Alyce 

P.S.  I’ve come to realize a lot of my readers are from countries where English is NOT a first language.  I welcome you all, but hope you’re not trying to learn English from my blog!  I speak a little Spanish  (Hola, Que tal?) and less German (Wie gehts?)… and even less French (Mais oui!) Anyway, know that I’m aware and am grateful for your presence. I’d love to hear from any of you.  If you write in your own languages, I can figure out a translation.  But do write me–especially if you try the recipes!  Bon chance, mes amis.

The Bible talks a lot about St. Paul, but it never mentions Minneapolis…

The Bible talks a lot about St. Paul, but it never mentions Minneapolis…

Back of house.  Driveway needs a bit of shoveling, huh?

 After a few days driving, living in hotels with two dogs,  (also one man and 55 tote bags they all wanted to get into), we are “at home” in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Home of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Prairie Home Companion.  Home of Macalester College and University of St. Thomas.  Home of the Minnesota State Fair.  Home of Scusi and The Groveland Tap.  Home of Dave, Alyce, Tucker and Gabby.  (We just watched the population sign go up.)

While Tucker loved the hotel, we’re not sure the hotel loved Tucker.   On TV, President Obama addresses the country about the earthquakes and tsunamis, which we heard little about until we stopped for the night.

 Two days of driving from Colorado drove the dogs crazy, but gave me two days alone (nearly) with my husband with them gated in the way back of the car.  Thanks, God.  Lovely weather (cold, but no rain or snow) and mostly clear skies led us most of the way and the first several hours (we went the back way), we saw about two cars.  Overnight in Kansas City and a leisurely breakfast yesterday lent a feeling of almost vacation.  But if it were vacation, my cream soups wouldn’t have been packed.  And packed they were.

Dining Room, Office  and nearly everything else for now.

 Moving is not vacation, despite the necessity for eating out, picnicking on the dining room floor or on the blow-up bed, and generally having no place to hang your hat or sit down as there is no furniture.  Moving means getting in a small room with several other people intent on spending the afternoon signing their names over and over again  with only stale coffee to drink.  Moving is getting on a first name basis with the cable guy.  Moving is driving by, stopping to peek in windows, and trying to remember what color the living room is.  (Who bought this house?)  Moving is walking in only to find no one cleaned the refrigerator or inside the cabinets.  Moving is a big sigh of relief to find that everything else is definitely clean, which would include the bathrooms.  Moving is remembering your niece, nephew and kiddoes live just up the road a piece and are already coming to see you.  It’s finding two comfy folding chairs and a bottle of Glenlivet on the front porch without a note.  It’s seeing your piano teacher appear at the door beautifully coiffed with two huge baskets full of plates, cups, breads, wine, cheese, fruit, roses and A SHARP KNIFE!  (All while she’s on the way out of town.)

Look at it now; the living room will never be that clean again!

While we treated ourselves to a celebratory first night at the Italian restaurant and wine bar across the street and down two buildings, we woke up the next morning needing breakfast.  There is little eggs and bacon can’t solve.  And all you need is one skillet, a spatula, the eggs and bacon.  I toasted the bread in the oven.

This is how my mom cooked eggs in bacon grease.  A real treat these days.  Broke in the stove but good.

And we were home.

We’ve spent the first couple of days cleaning up, unpacking, going to the store three times, figuring out what foods the birds want in their feeders, trying to make the gates work in two feet of snow, getting phones, tv and internet working (and then not working) and walking the dogs in mud and big puddles. Once the temperature rose a little above freezing, the stuff began to melt (I’m wet 8 inches up my jeans, not something common in Colorado.)    I must say I’m really wondering where it’s all going when it melts.  We made it to worship on the first Sunday in Lent and were warmly welcomed back to Mac Plymouth United Church, which is a combined PCUSA and UCC church four blocks from our house.  We joined the Wednesday Lenten soup and study night; this year focuses on a reading of TAKE THIS BREAD by Sara Miles.  I have this book, but it’s packed a thousand miles away.  So I downloaded it to my computer, where I have Kindle.  We’ll have to share my computer, tho. 

Side yard.  Thanks to previous owners, I know exactly what’s planted here.
Here’s Tucker waiting to skid getting a ball.
Here’s Gab in the new Two-Dog Kitchen

Come visit soon.  Well,  maybe you should wait til we get chairs.