Literary Hero: Jane Yolen

October 17th, 2011

When I discovered Dream Weaver, by Jane Yolen in 1979, I was dazzled that a contemporary writer created such fairy tales.

     I’ve read many more Yolen books: Here There Be Dragons, Owl Moon,
               
and Sleeping Ugly, to name a few. She’s written more than 300.  Yes, THREE-HUNDRED books, including fairy tales, fantasy stories, and poems seemingly for children and young people only, but not really.
     Yolen isn’t a stranger to the Twin Cities. Her son, musician, etc. Adam Stemple, lives here and Yolen is often at guest at the Kerlan Collection, an outstanding children’s literature research center at the University of Minnesota.
     Tonight, I heard her for the second time when she spoke in St. Paul at Hamline University. I was sure the room would be standing-room-only. After all, many do consider her America’s Hans Christian Anderson. The audience for her reading was modest in size, but great love for this artist and her work.
     Her new book isn’t for children. It’s a very adult book, of poems that tell of her husband’s illness and death in 2006 and her life then and after: Things to Say to a Dead Man: Poems at the End of a Marriage and After (Holy Cow! Press, 2011). The poems are plain spoken and raw with shards of hurt at what leads to death and what happens after.  Read more about Yolens’s first book specifically for adults and learn about this most prolific and spot-on author, one of my top literary heroes: “Ten questions for author Jane Yolen.”
     If you’re in Minneapolis-St. Paul, you have another chance to meet her.  Jane will be reading at The Loft in Downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday, October 19, 2011.
     Travel well, Jane Yolen.  And, keep bringing the spirit to life in your writing!
 Jane Yolen

Pine Ridge: Seeds of Hope and a Buffalo Snack

October 14th, 2011

Tonight, the ABC program, 20/20, devoted its entire program to Pine Ridge, the town and the reservation, Land of the Lakota,  in southwestern South Dakota. On Hidden America: Children of the Plains, Diane Sawyer rode a horse, wore a dancing shawl, and met Lakota in schools, business, law, and recovery. Those she interviewed painted a story with seeds of hope in a community awash in alcoholism, diabetes, and teen pregnancy. If there can be a Lakota Spring and a better future for Lakota children, these are the people who will help make it happen.

There’s a food angle in Sawyer’s portrayal of Pine Ridge. She covered it in two ways.  First, a Subway restaurant opened on Pine Ridge and a customer exclaimed that she hadn’t eaten a cucumber since she couldn’t remember. The report portrayed the restaurant as offering veggies in a food desert.

Second, the report featured the Tanka company, a home-grown Lakota business that makes and sells buffalo and cranberry-based snack sticks, sausages, and hot dogs, no doubt inspired by the traditional tribal mainstay, pemmican made of pounded buffalo meat and dried wild berries. The products with such names as Tanka Wild, Tanka Bars, Tanka Bites, and Tanka Dogs are gluten-, nitrates-, msg-, and hormone-free. Sawyer reported the Tanka Bars are available at 4000 outlets around the U.S., including Whole Foods. I’m making a trip there tomorrow to find a Tanka bar and have a taste.

To be continued….

 

Meatloaf and Pot Roast: Midwest Americana Redux

October 13th, 2011

Ordered meatloaf for lunch today. Meatloaf with potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and a roll: that’s what the menu said.  The server brought two GIANT slices of meatloaf with gravy, perfectly cooked broccoli and cauliflower, and two nice dinner rolls. (No potatoes. Allergy.)

The restaurant, Taste of Scandinavia with locations in two St. Paul suburbs, was founded in 1990 by Soile Anderson, using recipes from her native Finland. She no longer owns the place, but the current owners maintain her quality. And, they make her frosted kringle, untested during this trip.

While I tucked into the excellent meatloaf (with enough leftover for another meal,)” my lunch partner, Vicky, enjoyed her pot roast quesadilla on a whole-wheat flour tortilla. Both the meatloaf and the pot roast were thoroughly modern takes on classic Midwestern food.

Our talk over lunch was of corporate business, consumer affairs, blogs, and marketing.  That is, it was until our conversation shifted to the classic cafe lunch both she and I remember from our small-town childhoods, hers in Northern Minnesota, mine in South Dakota.

Every cafe and small restaurant across Minnesota, South Dakota, and probably every adjacent state, had a ‘dinner’ special. Dinner was what we called the noon meal, except for the meal at school which was lunch.  The classic cafe ‘dinner’ special was either a hot sandwich (beef pot roast, pork, or meatloaf served with mashed potatoes and gravy over a slice of white bread) or a hot dinner, which was the same items sans bread slice, but with a dinner roll on the side. The menu moved out of the cafe for farmer appreciation dinners or any community dinner that wasn’t a potluck.

I box up my extra slice of meatloaf.  While I wrapped my roll in a napkin, Vicky, slyly, remembered when at meal’s end of many community events, some women would tuck a napkin-wrapped roll in their purses, along with packets of sugar, salt, and pepper.

Busted.  Me.  I trust those purse-packers of yore felt as I did today: the roll was simply too good to not enjoy for another meal.

 

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

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

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 Foodesigns.com and check our her e-zine, Tweezer Times.

 

Food Legends

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. FeedstuffsFoodLink.com–From Farm to Fork co-sponsors the event. Watch GMFA for information about 2012 participating fairs and information about how to enter.

(New) Friends and Recipes: What Time Doesn’t Change

June 6th, 2011

For a long time, I’ve been in the habit of imagining what some people I meet may have looked like in their younger days. It started, I think, with a work colleague who was about 15 years older than I. She was elegant and lovely, a very kind and fun person. Her face had aged early and she occasionally commented that she missed being beautiful. In my mind’s eye, I could ‘see’ her as an incomparable beauty in years past. For all she had become and accomplished, she was no longer beautiful in that dewy 20-year old way.

While I had liked the way I looked, I’d reserved the word beautiful for other people and in turn, I’d rarely been called beautiful in features. I found it fascinating that my friend believed she had lost status as a beauty as she aged. At that time, she was under 40, far from old in any way.

Last week I joined a group of eight women. Each of us knew at least two of the guests. One knew every one of us. We’d all gone to Iowa State University in the 70’s. Each has weathered storms in her life. All were smart, lively, interesting women.

I looked around that table, imagining how each of us had looked as a college freshman or junior and how we’d each embraced our lives. The guest of honor commented to one woman: “You get the award for having changed the least,” while said woman laughed and said, “Really?”

For my part, based on the three women I’ve known since journalism school at ISU, each of us grew into the essence that was wholly apparent then: Raeanne’s

exuberant creativity; Sue’s practical competence and centered joy; Heather’s

creative pragmatism and peerless organizational skills.

I sat there marveling at what each of us had become as fully formed women. Those I knew and those I’d just met, beautiful, every one.

And of course, there was food. Heather, planner extraordinaire, hosted us, made assignments, and offered the appetizers and wine. Liz,

who I’d just met, brought the main dish salad, Liz’s Dijon Chicken Salad. The distinctive Dijon-mayonnaise dressing had layers of flavor. It’s one of the best I’ve tasted. Raeanne and Sue ‘art directed’ the photo. In the next few days, I’ll post two more recipes from a memorable evening

Liz credits the recipe to her friend Doris Fortino, who lives in Lucca, Italy and owns an inn.

Liz’s Dijon-Mayonnaise Chicken Salad

 

 

 

2 to 3 lbs. of boneless chicken breasts

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs

Lemon pepper

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup blanched pea pods, sliced as desired. Or use sugar snap peas, blanched

In medium saucepan, place chicken, herbs, lemon pepper and water to cover. Cut a sheet of cooking parchment to exact size of pan, using the lid as a template. Cut an X in the middle with scissors to allow steam to escape. Bring chicken and herbs to a simmer. Cover with parchment and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and slice into 3/4-inch cubes.

Drop pea pods into boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove and plunge into ice water to cool. Drain, dry and slice, as desired.

Meanwhile, toast almonds on baking sheet in 300° oven, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In medium bowl, combine cooled chicken and peas. Stir in Dijon-Mayonnaise Dressing (see below). Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serve on lettuce leaves, croissants, or bread of your choice. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Dijon-Mayonnaise Dressing

Try this dressing as a dipping sauce for crab or salmon cakes. Change it up by stirring in chopped green onions, chopped red bell peppers, and/or fresh herbs.

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup oil
Soy sauce to taste

In small bowl, combine all ingredients. mix well. Makes 1 3/4 cups dressing.

Rhubarb. Spring. Baking.

June 1st, 2011

On Sunday, I enjoyed the pleasures available only on a late May morning in a friend’s kitchen, a friend with a huge rhubarb patch and a baker’s white (flour) thumb. Christine and her husband, Scott welcomed me overnight at their home on a cattle ranch in northeastern Nebraska. For supper Scott grilled pork chops from animals raised nearby and asparagus Christine had harvested that morning from their garden. (They would have served their own beef, but their guest, sadly, is allergic.) All delicious, served with generous helpings of warm conversation.

In the morning, I said, “Something smells wonderful!”

“Rhubarb muffins,” Christine told me. She bakes often and does it without fuss. Another pile of slim stalks lay in the kitchen sink. Later in the day, after I left, she’d make and serve a rhubarb dessert to friends. Her main focus, though, these days is completing her PhD thesis in nursing with an emphasis on qualitative care for elders.

We sat down to  warm muffins, hot tea, and cold orange juice. I ate two muffins.  Well, ok, two-and-a-half. Christine had stirred black walnut extract into the batter, adding another layer of flavor.

Prairie breakfast. Prairie air. Plenty fun!

Christine-style Rhubarb Muffins

Christine: friend, baker, experimental cook, gardener, PhD candidate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk, fresh or dried  equivalent

1 1/2 cups diced rhubarb

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 tsp black walnut flavoring

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Topping:

2 tsp melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

In medium bowl, combine brown sugar, oil, egg, milk and vanilla. Add rhubarb, nuts, and flavoring. Stir in dry ingredients, just until mixed. Spoon into prepared muffin tins, either greased or with paper liners. Combine topping and press gently onto muffin batter. Bake in 350° F for 20 to 25 minutes until wooden pick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Makes 18 muffins.

The Year of Poultry

May 18th, 2011

I marvel at all the people raising chickens…in the city. My food colleague, Janice Cole, has written a lovely book about it: Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2011). More about that in another post. Back to the actual animals.

Up to the 1960s and 70s in chickens were raised for what was called, ‘egg money.’ Farm wives sold eggs to have a little more money for groceries, things for their kids, and maybe a bit for themselves. Eggs were 30 cents a dozen. I rode my bike a half mile into the country from Irene, South Dakota, to Gladys and Edwin Larson’s farm to pick up  cartons for my mom.

Gladys and I walked into the hen house, the chickens scattering out of our way, as we picked the warm eggs, sometimes marked with a light smear of feces. All this seemed only natural. Though it was natural, as well, that we didn’t raise chickens ourselves.

I won’t be joining the ranks of chicken keepers in Minnesota. However, I do have a duck. I’d noticed a Mallard pair in my garden in early April. I’m a block from a pond, only accessible by crossing two streets. Didn’t think they’d find my yard very hospitable. And, then, there is the neighborhood coyote (I pronounce it ‘KY-yote.) But, last week, I saw the ducks quite close to the house and not particularly concerned that I was nearby:

Yesterday, I saw her, the hen, nesting in a pile of last fall’s maple leaves. She’s made a thick nest of those neglected leaves between a peony and the brick planter wall.

Today, the male was watching from further out in the yard. I understand that duck gestation is 28 days. We’ll see.

 

 

Oh, Fiddle(head)!

May 11th, 2011

A plateful of fiddlehead ferns is the ultimate in local and seasonal food. I have a nice stand of ferns, especially thriving this year’s  cool, damp-enough spring. Last evening, I broke off as many of the cobra-headed spirals as I could find.  It came to about three cups of trimmed fiddleheads, all about the size of a quarter:

The harvest came to about three cups of trimmed fiddleheads. They have to be rinsed several times to get rid of the grit.

Blot the curls dry and then saute in a little butter.

And get out the forks!