Christmas Eve 2014: No Pictures, Please

January 15th, 2015

Fez, Morocco…Christmas Eve. I couldn’t, didn’t take a picture, though my hand itched for the camera. All I have is mental images, translated here:

“And, this,” says Ali, the city guide, “is the caravanserai (CAR-uh-van-sir-I).” He continues, “The farmers stay here when they come to sell in the Medina.” A donkey wreathed in a rope harness stands in one corner. Two women pull veils closer around their faces and watch us warily, four American women, decidedly unveiled. The men stare at our way, expressionless. I look away to the baskets, woven from palm fronds holding onions, garlic bulbs, potatoes and carrots. Nearby, a cluster of chickens tied together at the feet, cluck and mutter, in a feathered pile on blue plastic mesh.

Ali points to a row of blue battered doors on the second floor. “That’s where the farmers sleep.”

Standing here is almost unbearably intimate. We. are. not. welcome. I smell the straw, the donkey dung, and the dust and try to nod or acknowledge a greeting? That we’ve intruded?  Ali led us here, but I can’t look away.

Each cobblestone lane in Fez’s Medina, seems more Canterbury Tales than 2015 Christmas Eve.  I’m jolted to remember the celebration of Jesus’ birth in an obscure stable in Bethlehem, another Mediterranean city 2000 years ago. This courtyard, this caravanserai, could be that barnyard. Tonight on a farm in South Dakota after Christmas Eve supper, my brother will read aloud the passage from Luke 2:7 in the New Testament:  “… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Holy Bible, NIV). This real life moment in Fez feels like a very, very old story. Time travelers? Them? Us?









The Life-Long Importance of Eating Together

August 12th, 2014

Families who dine together thrive together. What’s good for the kids is good for the grown-ups even when the kids aren’t around.  In a recent issue of The Atlantic the writer offers evidence from a world-wide study that students who eat regularly with their parents miss less school. A 2003 study showed that students who eat five to seven meals a week with family are less likely to use drugs, less likely to be ‘highly stressed’ and more likely to perform well in school than teens who eat just two meals a week with family.

A quick trip around Google yielded no studies about the importance of adults eating together.  Yet, one-person households make up more than 25% of American homes. I live in one of those households. I have a hunch that when single people eat more meals with friends, neighbors and/or family and when more of those meals are prepared at home, that person is more likely to be building a strong network of support.



Dinner with Karen on a June evening as observed by Trigger

I’m talking about everyday kind of cooking, not splurging with others at a special restaurant or celebrating holidays. Just the ordinary “I’m-making-a-salad-and-roasting-fish-fillets.-Wanna-come-over-for-supper?” Eating together is quality time, best savored when screens are put to sleep. It’s for looking another in the eyes, listening to conversation, initiating conversation, building connection.





The Salad is Served

I’m talking about everyday kind of cooking, not splurging with others at a special restaurant or celebrating holidays. Just the ordinary “I’m-making-a-salad-and-roasting-fish-fillets.-Wanna-come-over-for-supper?” Eating together is quality time, best savored when screens are put to sleep. It’s for looking another in the eyes, listening to conversation, initiating conversation, building connection.

It’s the little things that sustain us. Dining together is a building block of friendship and mutual caring. I don’t know any demographic segment who doesn’t need a little more of that!


Here’s to good appetites and good meals shared!







What I’m Eating: Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Brussels Sprouts

November 18th, 2013


Bacon Brussels Sprouts

Roasted vegetables, especially cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, on a restaurant menu get me every time. They’re never mushy, often seasoned with care and creative flair, and they taste like an indulgence. True, edges may be charred and I’ve had cauliflower so drenched in olive oil that I’ve been tempted to blot the floweret with my cloth napkin. But most of the time the dish becomes one of the meal’s highlights.

I roast veggies at home, too. Kale and cabbage would work, I suppose, but the leaves and shreds don’t appeal to me as much as the bite-sized chunks of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Simply Roasted Vegetables:  Wash, dry and cut veggies and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle to taste with olive oil and season with your choice of herbs, seasonings, and salt and pepper. Stir to evenly distribute the oil. Place the veggies on a baking sheet and roast at 350o for 30 to 40 minutes. I opt for moderate heat and longer cooking time as there’s less chance of burned edges.Serve with a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Veggies take to seasonings like meat does to rubs and sauces. In Bacon Brussels Sprouts above, I broiled a few strips of bacon, then added the chopped bacon and bacon fat as needed to the halved, washed Brussels sprouts. I tossed this mixture with half slices of white onion, turmeric, Worcestershire sauce and finished it just before serving with fresh lemon juice and cracked rock salt.

I’m experimenting often with turmeric these days. It teams very well with my stand-by favorite, smoked Spanish paprika, as in the Cauliflower-Asparagus Roast pictured below. I sprinkled the vegetables with the spices and then drizzled olive oil and tossed before placing in a single layer on a baking sheet.

An idea for your Thanksgiving table?


Cauliflower-Asparagus Roast




Fair’s Fair! Don’t Miss the Crop Art*!

August 30th, 2013
Crop Art Rocks!

Crop Art Rocks!

I was raised to speak “state fair.” I learned the basics in South Dakota when my parents set my brother and I loose to go on the rides, make spin-art pictures, and eat caramel apples, yes, on a stick. Later, my high school band marched at the fair and the day always ended with the grandstand show. The South Dakota Fair in Huron is just six days. In the 70s, they booked an entertainment act in the grandstand just  two or three nights and featured the rodeo the other evenings. My bandmates and I preferred to see a musical act, that being more special than a rodeo. One year we hit the jackpot. The pop group, The New Vaudeville Band performed, including their hit  single”Winchester Cathedral.” The best part? Somehow, several of us were invited on stage during one of the songs. What can I say about this sole groupie experience? It was thrilling, though I think I recall that we giggled through most of it.

Speaking of giggles, it's not true that gophers ride the ferris wheel in Minnesota.

Speaking of giggles, it’s not true that gophers ride the ferris wheel in Minnesota.

Earlier this year, during a networking event, I met a delightful student studying at the University of Minnesota. He’s kept in touch with me and we had lunch a few weeks ago. Before he returns to France, his Minnesota pals wanted him to experience our state fair. They wanted him to have the experience of all manner of deep-fried food on a stick.

“I’m nervous about it,” he confided.

Bad-seed Santa: Scary!

Bad-seed Santa: Scary!

“There’s more to the State Fair than all that crazy, odd food,” I protested. “There’s even food that isn’t extreme, say the pork chop-on-a-stick, watermelon slices, fruit sorbet, Middle Eastern mint lemonade.”

A tropical touch at the Minnesota State Fair

A tropical touch at the Minnesota State Fair

He returned a doubtful half smile. I couldn’t stop. “Then there’s Creative Activities, the 4-H building, the Art Show, and the ikebana and dahlias in the Horticulture Building where Crop Art is housed.

A proud agricultural heritage

A proud agricultural heritage

I walked the fair today with my friend Malinda, our annual outing. I thought of that young Frenchman discovering our State Fair, as we hit our own highlights. We tasted one of the new-this-year foods: hot dish on a stick. Not a winner. However, the slow-roasted split pork shanks were delicious. They go by the name of “Porketta Pork Wings.” Malinda loved the very minty lemonade from the Holy Land deli. I enjoyed the vanilla, non-dairy frozen dessert at the Dole booth.

Hey!  It's not on a stick!

Hey! It’s not on a stick!

We strolled by the usual places. It was a lovely day, first with a cool breeze in many days. 

Vincent would approve.

Vincent would approve.


DId I mention the honey ice cream in the Horticulture Building?

DId I mention the honey ice cream in the Horticulture Building?


Another fair food:  Sweet Corn for All!

Another fair food: Sweet Corn for All!

I have re-affirmed for myself.

1. The fair always evokes fond memories of fairs past.

2. I love the Minnesota State Fair.

3. Crop Art never disappoints.

*All images in this post are Minnesota State Fair Crop Art, 2013


Salsa or Gazpacho? It Depends

August 26th, 2013

One day it dawned upon me that I have the same intention when making salsa or making the chunky summer soup, gazpacho. Either way, I’m going for a tomato base with veggies and a complex mix of sweet, salty and sour flavors, plus heat from chiles. That same day, I realized that most of the ingredients are identical, save a little more cilantro in the salsa and chopped cucumber added to the gazpacho. But, really, the combinations change every time. Jalapeno or habanero? Lemon or lime juice? Red or yellow or white or green onions or all four? Garlic cloves, garlic chives, or shallots? Red, green, yellow or orange sweet peppers? Salt or Vulcan Salt? Ground Black Pepper–always a resounding “Yes!” to that.

Today’s version started with the beautiful, meaty tomatoes from the Nicollet Mall Farmer’s Market, Thursdays, in Downtown Minneapolis. My own garden finally offered the first and then a second ripened San Marzano tomato to add to the mix. Lemon-colored peppers, green onions, chopped garlic cloves. I can’t help but stop and admire the burst of colors at this point.




The vegetables always outdo themselves. The seasonings take a bit more thought. I use fresh lemon or lime juice and a splash of olive oil. Vinaigrette calls for about 1/3 lemon juice to 2/3 oil. I flip those proportions and lean into the lemon or lime juice for an assertive, bracing quality to the dish. Sometimes, I augment the chiles’ heat with Crystal Hot Pepper Sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. If gazpacho has the upper hand, I splash in some Worcestershire sauce. Instead of giving you exact amount, I advise calibrating these ingredients by your taste preferences as I do for mine.

Before the mix

Before the mix

The chunkier the tomato, the more the dish tends toward gazpacho. Yet, it’s easier to scoop a salsa’s single, large tomato chunk onto a tortilla chip (in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I recommend those from El Burrito Mercado, sold across the metro area and in their St. Paul HQ). OK, it may be even easier to scoop the more uniformly, chopped vegetables. It just depends.

For certain, I know that from now until frost, salsa/gazpacho will be on the menu almost daily.

Sweet, indeed!

March 1st, 2013
Tah Dah! Roasted Sweet Potato Burrito

Tah Dah! Roasted Sweet Potato Burrito

I’m craving spring, but the crocus and tulips are tucked under the snow.

Spring with its crocus, tulips, and daffodils has to wait out the snow. And, so must I.

Spring with its crocus, tulips, and daffodils has to wait out the snow. And, so must I.

To cheer myself, I made this a fruit- and veggie-focused day. My sweet supper idea satisfied my appetite and my spring-starved spirit. Step One: Peel one sweet potato, saving the peelings for a Trigger Kong Snack tomorrow. Cut into fries, about 1/2″ wide. Roast with a little olive oil in 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes. Turn them and roast another 10 minutes.

Sweet potatoes, nicely browned

Sweet potatoes, nicely browned

See result above:  I lined a whole-wheat tortilla with fresh green salad tossed with cherry tomatoes, green onions, and vinaigrette. I laid the fries over the salad and added a heaping spoonful of corn and black bean salsa. A dab of guacamole would have been nice, too.

Everyday eating is too important to leave to celebrity chefs and media personalities

April 20th, 2012

I once was a food writer for a metro newspaper food section. My beat was writing about food at home. Food for family meals and snacks. Food for parties. Food for holidays. I tested quinoa recipes in 1981. I interviewed a grandmother who baked gluten-free treats for her grandkids. I wrote about the “latest” research linking a high-fiber diet to lower cholesterol levels. One story featured a Minneapolis woman whose particular Greek cookies were considered the best in the local Greek community. Every recipe in every story was tested in my kitchen: brioche, pickles, roll-your-own-rice paper bundles, chicken salad with edible flowers. My editor and my fellow writer did the same with their stories.

The editor-in-chief of said metro daily, decreed that restaurants were entertainment. Our food section supplied ideas for people who went to the grocery store and came home to cook. Any chef recipes we printed were adapted to the home audience.

I say all this to make a distinction between food as entertainment and food as nourishment in every sense, which may include entertainment, but only as an additional factor to health, well being, satisfaction, sharing and making time for and with others.

Every day eating is too important to leave to the celebrity chefs and media food personalities, whose success, creativity, and business savvy, I laud. It just seems wrong to me that culinary education has become a high and holy calling that at best leads to inspiration for the viewer and media and financial success for the star, and at worst glorifies absolutely horrid eating habits.

Celebrity Chef Paula Deen

Everyday eating is really, quite ordinary. It doesn’t have to be ready for prime time.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are the core of your state of health, the basis of your children’s life-long well being, the building blocks of every day of your life.

What if your daily food intake isn’t entertainment, something to keep you distracted from life’s challenges and problems? What if what you eat every day is survival, itself? What if the most commonplace thing you do every day is the most important? Cooking healthy, delicious food has extraordinary implications for the rest of your life.

Physics Coming to a Kitchen Near You?

February 13th, 2012

It’s no secret: cooking is science. I studied physics, organic chemistry, and biochem to learn food science at Iowa State University in the bright ages before the internet, cell phone apps, and a latte in every hand. The degree was Home Economics Journalism.

Flash forward to 2012: The august Harvard University and its College of Engineering and Applied Science showcases  the wonders of this same science in the  wildly popular course, simply named, “Science and Cooking.”  Little more than half of the 700 students wanting to take the first course were given a place in the class and lab.

On February 9, Harvard physicist David Weitz brought his wonders of applied physics to the University of Minnesota (UM). The audience crowded into first a very large lecture hall and then, into another, slightly smaller. Weitz (who repeatedly reminded us, “I am not a cook. I know nothing about cooking.”) proceeded to write equations on the board and talk about phase transition while he cooked an egg; described gels while he encased a dollop of yogurt in a alginate (gel) casing, and explain emulsification while churning oil and milk into a solid and later, blending the more familiar emulsion of eggs, oil, and a bit of Dijon mustard into mayonnaise.

Granted, unlike the Harvard students, we didn’t get to hear from the El Bulli’s Ferran Adria or Blue Hill’s Dan Barber, or even Harold McGee who wrote On Food and Cooking in 1984 and rewrote and expanded it for a 2004 printing. No matter. This crowd, skewed to the marketing-desirable demographic of 20 to 40, watched with admiring attention for an hour and 45 minutes.

Could the science of cooking be the next home-cooking trend?

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21st, 2011

To add to your own Thanksgiving traditions, have a look at Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and Plimoth Plantation (2005). And, more about Thanksgiving and early life in New England at Plimoth Plantation.

Smarter than a…

October 19th, 2011


As I planted a patch of tulips in my backyard in the late afternoon, I imagined the chipmunks and squirrels (and I learned today that chipmunks are in the squirrel family) watching with glee. ‘Dinner is served! Just dig down six inches and we’ve got MREs (meals-ready-to-eat). Yippee!’

Who cares whether I’m smarter than a third grader. I just want to be smarter than the squirrel families who frequent my yard. I laid some obstacles to their dinner. The mighty fortress is pictured: Small but mighty.