Give Me Shelter

As I sit at my desk right now, my home is silent and I recognize the daily importance of silence in my life.  Silence is a dear friend, the kind of friend that can sit with you and not feel uncomfortable when listening to the sound of the heart.  We are so bombarded with noise; we are plugged in and turned on.  Unabated noise can be an onslaught of constant stimulation in a way that confuses, rather than comforts.

During this period of sheltering in place or social distancing,  we are offered an opportunity to listen to our own thoughts. Living a rural life offers periods of time when you don’t see many people, yet I am never lonely.  Our social time largely centers around our weekly appearance at our farmers market to sell our wares.  I can be quite a talker and this is a great time for discussion and sharing.  Now that this is not an option, I do miss the absence of that scheduled human contact; the hugs, the warm conversations with customers, friends and vendors.  However this extended time away from our social connections, allows us to pare down even further in the discovery of what we really value in our life.

Adversity has the power to change us if we are open to that change.  It is my sincere hope that people pause and reevaluate what is most important to them and then act on that knowledge.  May this challenging time provide the reset needed, and the catalyst for manifesting better lives for ourselves and each other.

SALMON WITH ARTICHOKES, CAPERS AND SPINACH

Make sure you have all you ingredients measured and prepped, as this comes together rather quickly.  You don’t want to overcook your salmon!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-4 wild caught salmon fillets, weighing approximately 6 ounces each
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 large garlic cloves, grated
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can 15 oz. artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 6 ounces fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1.  You will want to sear your salmon in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet.  Generously salt and pepper your fillets.
  2. When your oil is hot, add salmon fillets flesh side down (skin side up).  Sear for about 4 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and turn each fillet over (skin side down).  Sear for another 4-5 minutes until salmon is almost flaky.
  3. Remove salmon from skillet.  In the same skillet, add chopped sun-dried tomatoes, grated garlic, chopped artichokes and capers. Cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add fresh spinach, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until spinach wilts, 1-2 more minutes.
  5. Add heavy cream and paprika.  Bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes more.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  6. Add fillets back to pan with vegetable and cream.  Heat gently for about 2 minutes.
  7. Serve with sauce spooned over fish.

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“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.  –Proverb

Opportunity Knocks

As we all creep forward during this time of uncertainty; nature, reading, planting our vegetable farm and cooking are keeping me grounded and hopeful.  Rural living is a calming lifestyle that continues to nourish us.  Even with the farm year slowly ramping up, we have an established rhythm for daily life, that is forward thinking and hopeful.  Regardless of how this crisis plays out, if we can’t get to the farmers market to sell our food, it will certainly not be wasted.  We will be canning, along with making sure that our neighbors have access to fresh food. I respect that our farmers market is staying open, with a plan of action and necessary precautions.  Young farmers and businesses need to serve their communities and stay open as long as possible.  As elders, with my wife having a compromised immune system, we have been self-sheltering with the understanding that growing food is the very best use of our time.

It is often said that the character of a individual is how they respond to adversity.  After all happiness is an inside job; but I admit to having several sleepless nights. I am keenly aware of my privilege in feeling relatively safe during this time.  My heart hurts for people who have lost their jobs, businesses that have had to close, people without a sufficient safety net to get them through this time of uncertainty.  I trust the creativity and innovation of people, much more than the total lack of leadership at the federal level.  I know we will collectively get through this stressful time.  It is my hope that lessons will be learned that can lift all of us up, in the face of future challenges.

Actually, self-sheltering has been our rural life style.  When people come to the farm to laugh, cook and eat with us, they often say how they need to be a part of something with purpose.  Urban living has its own forms of signature stress.  They see a well lived in home, with a rich history, surrounded by land and vegetables, as something distant from their own reality.  We look forward to being able to welcome our friends back into our home and break bread together.  In the meantime, reading, writing, planting and preparing food is our devotion.

I usually make the following recipe during the summer months, but I have found that the use of frozen corn and the frozen cherry tomatoes that I put up during the last farm season create a beautiful and delicious alternative.  Depending on your circumstances and location, most grocery stores have cherry tomatoes even this time of year.

FRESH CORN POLENTA WITH ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 ears of fresh corn (or 6 cups frozen)
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 7 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 cups fresh or frozen cherry tomatoes
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish

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INSTRUCTIONS:

FOR THE TOMATOES:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Pour cherry tomatoes and garlic onto sheet pan and drizzle 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.  Roll the tomatoes around with the palms of your hands to evenly coat.
  2. Sprinkle the tomatoes and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and toss the tomatoes.  Return to oven for 20-30 minutes more or until the tomatoes have slit and are slightly brown in some places.

FOR POLENTA:

  1. If using fresh corn, peel the leaves and silk from each ear, then chop off the pointed top and stalk.  Use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels, taking care to remove as much of the ‘milk’ below the kernels as possible, while stabilizing the cob on a cutting board.  You will need 6 cups of kernels.
  2. Place the fresh or frozen kernels in a medium saucepan and barely cover them with water.  Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer.  Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid in a Pyrex measuring cup.
  3. Process for several minutes; you want to break as much of the kernel case as possible.  Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
  4. Return the corn paste to the pan with some of the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10-15 minutes; or until the corn mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency. (the more liquid you use, the longer this process will take; watch carefully in case it sputters)
  5. Fold in the butter, the feta, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Spoon some of the polenta into individual shallow bowls,.  Spoon roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic on top.  Garnish with fresh basil or parsley.

Serves: 4

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“When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them— some food, a place in our homes, our time— not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched.”  —Pope Francis

 

 

Safe Harbor

These are challenging times.  There is anxiety and confusion as we take in information and make decisions on how to best weather this storm.  Val and I are are sheltering in place for the time being.  I know many who are doing the same; I also know many who are not.  It’s sad that in this country the slightest inconvenience is seen as something insurmountable.  People hoard, people party, people refuse to see our interconnection.  What affects you, may also affect me, and vice-versa.  Val and I are evaluating our presence at our beloved farmers market.  Our schools are closed for 3 weeks.  The corona-virus is spreading faster than testing kits are available.  As interconnected individuals, what can we do?  Pause….stay calm….be kind.

I came across a meaningful Facebook post which I will pass along:

Conversations will not be cancelled.  Relationships will not be cancelled.  Love will not be cancelled.  Songs will not be cancelled.  Reading will not be cancelled.  Self-care will not be cancelled.  Hope will not be cancelled.

May we lean into the stuff that remains.

I took a walk in the sunshine this morning.  I could smell the land opening up to the approaching spring.  We will be planting our garlic soon.  I will be tilling the soil this week.  Is it so bad to take a step back and breathe?  Unplug for a while?  My new cookbook, Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat!! invites you to do just that.  Slow down, make meals with your family, break bread together.  Dig a little deeper into our relationships with other.  Technology has opened up a whole new world; it has also separated us from each other.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology; I’m suggesting that we discipline ourselves, so that it’s not a 24/7 onslaught.  We need to think our own thoughts, make our own discoveries, nourish our human connections.  Nothing helps us reach that goal better than creating meals together.  The other suggestion I would make is that each of us spend a few hours a day in silence.  In silence we can calm ourselves, breathe, feel gratitude, be not only prayerful,  but hopeful.  It certainly starts within the safe harbors of our homes.

Zucchini Muffins:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large farm fresh eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups (280g) cane sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups packed grated zucchini
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 3/4 cups (400g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
  • 12-16 paper muffin cups

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Mix in the sugar and vanilla extract.  Stir in the grated zucchini and the melted butter.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and salt.
  3. Stir in the dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. (Be careful not to over-mix!)  Stir in walnuts, raisins or cranberries if using.
  4. Place muffin cups in muffin tin.  Using a spoon, fill the muffin cups just to the top.  If you are using parchment liners (which I love), you can be slightly more generous.
  5. Bake on the middle rack of oven, until golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 20-30 minutes.
  6. Let cool on wire rack for 5 minutes; then remove from muffin tin and let cool completely.

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Yield: 12-16 muffins

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook Eat!

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I am pleased to announce my second cookbook, Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat!  will be available for purchase in late April.  I’m so proud to advocate for local farmers markets and entrepreneurs.  This is my love letter to our local Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids, MI; where we have been vending for 20 years.

The focus of this particular cookbook is about creating intimacy through cooking.  After all, humans have been obsessed with food since the beginning of time.  It defines us geographically, ethnically, culturally and economically.  It has been a focus of my life since childhood.  It is my vocation, entertainment, art form and passion.  I hope it will become your passion too.

Recent studies have shown that the average American eats out 4-6 times a week.  The fast pace of contemporary living sells the idea that there is no time to cook.  Cooking seems old-fashioned; but what has really happened is that the public has collectively been sold a bill of goods.  Premade entries, extensive deli’s and takeout lure you away from something that feeds you not only physically but emotionally.  Cooking done with care is an act of love.  Julia Child has said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.”

The emphasis of Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat! is veggies.  There are guides for a well-stocked pantry along with assorted tips and variations for many recipes to personalize ingredients for individual tastes.  The chapters are organized by type of vegetable such as greens, alliums, tomatoes, root vegetables, etc.  Most are easy to prepare.  All of them are nutritious and satisfying.  You do have time to cook!  Get your spouse or family involved.  Make cooking a bonding and conversational time.  Sharing a simple meal together will increase the intimacy between you and your loved ones.  Get off your phones and into your food.  What have you got to lose?

May there be joy at your table.

“There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal.  Eating together, breaking bread together, is one of the oldest and most fundamentally unifying of human experiences.”    —Barbara Colorso

Oowie, Goowie

Cooking is my passion.  If you enjoy eating you’re my kind of person.  We have just returned from a two week vacation in California, visit family.  My brother-in-law, my two sisters-in-law live in southern California; in La Quinta and Palm Springs respectively.  Southern California is a different universe.  Wealth is on display everywhere, along with manicured lawns, gated communities, golf courses, cars we’ve never seen before, Latino labor, and a incredible wealth discrepancy.

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The weather was beautiful.  Most days were in the 80’s; and dry heat is a thing.  We went up the tram in Palm Springs; although Val was terrified.  We ate sushi, gourmet Mexican, Italian sandwiches, gourmet pizza and burgers.  We went to cocktail bars, and Joshua Tree National Park.  It was a lesson in contrasts.  In spite of the culture shock, the farmers markets and Mexican grocery stores were inspiring and abundant.

Even though it was a much needed vacation for us, my joy was cooking for family and new acquaintances with some of the best produce I’ve ever encountered.  I’ve never taken so many photographs.  We were surrounded by mountains, and there wasn’t a bad view to be had.  One of the things I enjoyed making was my first Baklava.  I have gotten used to working with phyllo dough and it was rich an satisfying.  My family loved it, and it was a special time together.

INGREDIENTS:

FOR THE BAKLAVA:

  • 16 ounces walnuts
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 16 ounces phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1 cup unsweetened butter melted

FOR SYRUP:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup good quality honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 strip orange peel
  • 1 strip lemon peel

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Pulse the walnuts in a food processor with the cinnamon, cardamom, and salt until finely chopped.
  3. To assemble the baklava, place 8 layers of phyllo dough on-by-one on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan, brushing each lightly with butter.
  4. Spread 2/3 cup of walnuts mixture evenly on top.
  5. Add another 5 layers of phyllo one-by-one, brushing each one with butter, then add another layer of walnuts.  The total sequence should be phyllo layers of 8,5,5,5,5,8, with nuts in between each layer.
  6. Using a sharp knife, cut teh baklava into whatever shape you desire (diamonds, square, triangles).
  7. Bake the baklava for 50 minutes, until golden on the edges and tops.  Then let cool for at least 15 minutes.
  8. In the meantime, bring all the syrup ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  9. Remove the cinnamon stick, and citrus peels, and pour the hot syrup evenly over the baklava.  Let the baklava cool completely at room temperature for 8 hours (uncovered to prevent sogginess).  Then it’s ready to enjoy.

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“A good cook works by the fire of the imagination not merely by the fire in the stove.”

Robert Tristram Coffin

 

 

Occasional Decadence

My father had many sayings that he would repeat when the mood suited him; but my favorite was, “All things in moderation, including moderation.”  I pretty much live by this code.  I don’t apologize for the occasional desert or rich dish; their just soooo yummy!  This one is no exception.  Cream, pancetta, and garlic take Swiss chard to another level entirely.  You could make it with bacon, but why not hit a home run rather than a base hit?  The first time I made this for my green’s hating brother-in-law, he took seconds (twice).  Another time my nephew pulled the casserole to his place setting and wondered what everyone else was going to eat.  It’s tradition at Thanksgiving, but I can’t help making it at least once a month during the winter season.

SWISS CHARD CASSEROLE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I use ciabatta)
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 slices pancetta, diced
  • 2-3 bunches Swiss chard, wash and spun, stems removed and chopped into 1/4 inch slices (approximately 2 1/2 cups); leaves cut into ribbons (approximately 8-12 cups
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and toss it with the breadcrumbs; set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and garlic to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 8 minutes, reducing the volume slightly.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, in a 12 inch non-stick skillet, cook the pancetta over medium heat until crisp and browned.  Drain on paper towels, reserving 1 tablespoon of the fat in skillet.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to skillet and melt.  Add the chard stems and saute over medium-high heat until they are soft and slightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and add chard leaves.  Saute chard for about 3-5 minutes or until wilted.
  4. With tongs, transfer the chard to a gratin or ceramic dish, leaving any excess liquid in skillet.  Spread evenly.
  5. Sprinkle pancetta over chard.  Pour the seasoned cream over chard.  Sprinkle pancetta over cream and chard; top with buttered bread crumbs.  Bake until golden and bubbly, about 25-35 minutes.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6

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”Comfort food—food that reassures—is different things to different people.”  –David Tanis

Anyway You Slice It

I eat a lot of salads.  I never tire of the crunch factor.  The winter is a great time to step outside the box and look for salads that don’t rely on lettuce as the main ingredient.  I usually look for seasonal, stable vegetables; and brassicas are an easy solution.  Every thing from cauliflower, to broccoli, to cabbage offer creative and healthy options for salads with a seasonal flare.

Another thing to keep in mind is to include a variety of textures, color and flavor profiles.  Sweet against salty, is one I often use to help keep it interesting.  This salad has all the elements that I enjoy.  It’s colorful, crunchy, sweet and salty all at the same time.  It has great staying power and lasts for several days in the refrigerator.

Red Cabbage Salad with Dates and Feta

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 small red cabbage (or half of a large one), halved, cored, then quartered and sliced very thin
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup pitted Medjool dates, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1.  In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.  Taste and adjust with more lime juice and salt.  It should taste well seasoned.  Let macerate on counter for 30-45 minutes, to slightly soften cabbage.
  2. Toss dressed cabbage with half of the dates. and feta.  Arrange in a bowl or on a platter, and sprinkle the rest of the dates and feta on top.  Garnish with parsley and toasted almonds.

Serves 4-6

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 “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.””

 

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