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The Life-Long Importance of Eating Together

Tuesday, 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!







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

Friday, 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


A Bite of Pineapple, a Glass of Wine, and Friends

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

The first Friday of every month, I can always go to a party. It’s a pot-luck soiree of people who work in the creative arts in the Twin Cities–writers, designers, editors, talent in all media.  Kit Naylor and Cathy Madison got it started and Kit is the supreme hostess who makes sure it continues, scheduling hosts and welcoming one and all.

Everybody brings something:  wine, beer, sparkling water, and food, good food. The eclectic dining offerings span every menu possibility from honey-crusted peanuts from a bin at the supermarket to a curry recreated by a man just returned from Malaysia. A marketing writer who aspires to turn her baking arts into a cookbook brings her latest concoctions. In the winter, there are crockpots of stews and soups. During summer, plates of fresh tomatoes with basil and bowls of fresh fruit predominate.

I decided to bake for last week’s bash. Hungry for pineapple upside-down cake, I down-sized to mini-cakes, each with a bite of pineapple and an almond. They were devoured right down to the crumbs on the tray.

Pineapple Upside-Down Mini Cakes

No need for cupcake papers. You may need to trim the cakes to get them out of the cupcake pans.

Makes 24 mini cakes

1 15-ounce can pineapple slices in juice1/4 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

24 whole almonds or pecans

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1 1/3 cups reserved pineapple juice plus water or milk

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1.  Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Cut six slices into quarters. Use remaining pineapple as desired.

2.  In small glass bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, and water. With non-stick spray, coats sides of each compartment of two 12-serving cupcake pans. Divide butter-sugar mixture among the cups. Arrange 1/4 pineapple slice and one nut in each. Set pans aside.

2.  In medium bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, and baking powder. Stir in juice mixture, 1/2 cup butter, eggs, and vanilla. Mix at lowest speed of mixer just until ingredients are combined. Increase speed to medium and mix 1 more minute.  Evenly divide batter in pans.

3.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Cook pans on wire rack for about 5 minutes. With a table knife, loosen sides of each cake, removing excess cake on top edges, if needed. Invert onto baking pan. Spoon out any topping left in pan. Serve warm.






Food Friend: Lisa Golden Schroeder

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011


In cat years, Lisa and I have been friends forever, since the dawn of our food careers.  We’ve collaborated on dozens of food photographs and made each other laugh, many times. She makes it look easy to make food beautiful and she shares her talents as a food stylist, teacher, writer, recipe developer, and lover of the food in general. Learn more about Lisa and food styling at and check our her e-zine, Tweezer Times.


Food Legends

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Family food legends have a way of nourishing body and soul. 2011 marked the Minnesota State Fair’s inaugural Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance’s Heirloom Recipe Contest. I  joined in the judging to honor slices of cherished Minnesota family history. Eighteen women and men, aged 24 to 70, each displayed a story and a prepared recipe. The judges tasted potato soup, chocolate cake, ginger cookies, butterflake rolls , and perfectly cooked spare ribs with homemade sauerkraut.

Four stories and recipes broke out of the pack as the winners.

1st Place: Roberta Casey, St. Paul, MN. We laughed out loud at Roberta Casey’s story of her grandmother’s Pretzel Cookies and the lengths to which Roberta and her cousins went to get more than their fair share. Casey’s display was accurate right down to the layers of plastic wrap she described as being essential to her grandmother’s storage method. Hilma Cherney Rivan passed away at age 97. The family served Pretzel Cookies at her funeral reception.

2nd Place: Gwendolyn Swenson, North Branch, MN. Swenson used peaches for this version of Fruit Upside-Down Cake, presented on a Depression glass plate on a vintage doily. The crumb and flavor of the cake were excellent. Swenson noted: “I have been making the recipe for nearly 50 years. Mom is nearly 84 years old. So between the two of us, we been making this recipe for over 70 years.”

3rd Place:  Natalie Tangen, West St. Paul, MN.  Tangen told her grandparent’s touching love story and described the hard-working life Louise and Fred Paez shared. Members of the family still make Louise’s Spanish Rice and eat it rolled up in homemade tortillas. “Her rice with tortillas was simple fare, but lovingly made by her beautiful hands.”

4th Place: Josette Repke, Plymouth, MN, Wash-Day Supper. Josette remembers this  surprising delicious Wiener Hot Dish with Boiled Potatoes (or, if you prefer, Hot Dog Casserole) from Mondays of her childhood, the day the wash was always done.

Read the winner’s essays and try their recipes and read about previous contests.

The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, based in Chicago, debuted the competition in 2009 in Illinois and has since expanded to Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and this year to Minnesota and Missouri, with plans to take the contest to more state fairs next year.–From Farm to Fork co-sponsors the event. Watch GMFA for information about 2012 participating fairs and information about how to enter.

Raised Gardens and a Chicken-Wire Memory

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

I started gardening in raised beds last year. Special thanks to my neighbor Terry who built them for me! This year I’m adding four more beds.

Simple raised bed tips:  1)  Use screws, not nails, to connect the boards. They’ll hold together longer.

2) Brace the corners.

Before filling with 1/3 peat moss-1/3 vermiculite-1/3 mixed variety compost, I lined the beds with newspapers to discourage weeds and chicken wire to discourage burrowing animals.

(A side note on the chicken wire: Always reminds me of  homecoming parades in our small town in South Dakota. Instead of flowers as they use for the renowned Rose Bowl parade, we stuffed fluffed-up paper table napkins in the chicken wire to create our creations.

Coming up with the design was great fun! Really!)

But, I digress. Gardening season is here and I’m ready!





Creative Pursuits: Irresistible Food Images

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Welcome Guest Creative, professional food stylist and expert in all things food, Lisa Golden Schroeder

Seven Food Styling Secrets: You Can Do This!

by Lisa Golden Schroeder

As a professional food stylist, I have the luxury of working with amazing food shooters who make my food look incredible. But if you are trying to capture your own food for a personal blog or to document your favorite family recipes, here are a few tips for enhancing the visual sensibilities of your food.

Never use a flash. If you’re in a restaurant, choose a table near a window. The flash flattens everything out and sometimes gives an earthly glow to photos. When that’s not possible, choose one of the camera’s “white balance” settings; for example, the setting indicated by a light bulb compensates for the yellow tint indoor lights can cast.

Get in close. Fill the frame with the dish, making the food the star. Use a camera’s macro setting (often indicated by a flower icon) to bring a part of the dish into sharper focus. Or widen the aperture to reduce the depth of field, which allows you to focus on foreground details—say, the crusty corner on a dish of macaroni and cheese—and keep the background soft (“select focus” in professional parlance). No need for formal garnishing (forget that huge sprig of parsley) if the food is really your hero.

Wipe glasses and plate edges.
Be sure surfaces are free of smudges and greasy fingerprints (a little glass cleaner or rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab is great for small clean ups). In good light, they really stand out.

Work quickly, but deliberately. The longer it takes to set up a shot, the more salads wilt or sauces congeal. For food to look delicious, it needs to look fresh. A small spritz bottle or a paintbrush dipped in water can be used to moisten up food if it needs some dewiness. Pay attention to color, shapes, texture—contrasts in the way you arrange the food on the plate will make a shot more compelling. Drips and crumbs are appetizing, but too much messiness is not.

Keep your hands steady. In low-light conditions, even the slightest tremor can produce a blurry photograph. Brace your elbows against the table to keep the camera steady. Or try this trick: use the top of a water glass as a makeshift tripod.

Shoot a lot. A photo may seem fine on the camera’s tiny screen, but when you look on your computer, it is likely to be out of focus or too bright. So click away, then edit. Capture shots in both a vertical and horizontal format, too. So you have the option of how you can crop it. And less is more—keep your shots simple, elegant.

Shoot food as it’s being prepared.
Don’t get hung up on capturing the quintessential “final shot.” Sometimes the most interesting moment in a food’s life is during its preparation. There are all sorts of great details that emerge throughout the cooking process.