Weather Report: Finding Kathy

Gentle Reader: Last week’s sad news has turned partly sunny. Feeling the need to take my own words to heart, I reaffirmed the challenge to find Kathy, my next door neighbor and childhood friend from age 6. I had tried to find her 5 years ago and failed. But with more advanced internet White Pages and a fifteen-year-old phone number, I found her.

We spent a good 25 minutes on the phone getting caught up on our headlines from the past 15 years and a few classmates and family. Her recent headline: just 3 weeks ago she donated one of her kidneys to her husband, Bill. Guess that eliminates any doubt in my mind whether they were still together.

Kathy wanted to know if I was still writing poetry and to let me know that she is not able to part with the blue lace brush-roller bag I gave her (probably in junior high). Our mothers were also very close. They had tea every afternoon–alternating kitchens. Every Friday they went grocery shopping together–followed by tea, of course. Meanwhile in the summertime, Kathy and I were swimming at Hillside Pool. Yes, every afternoon. Mornings too.

Weather Report: A Silver Lining

Gentle Reader: The past few days I’ve been sad into my bones at the loss of a high school friend. Seems so trite and clichéd to remind you to stay in touch occasionally with old friends. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss this by saying, “I have nothing in common with those people.” But think about it. We spent seven, maybe ten, of our formative years growing up with them. At the very least we have many memories in common and a probably a small town somewhere. Our memories are part of who we are.

So, here’s to Sandee . . . and throwing coins for gas money in the little box taped to the dashboard of your dad’s Nash Rambler station wagon . . . oh yeah, and laughing ‘til we nearly peed our pants.

The Bread of Life

Gentle Reader: Since recorded time people have been baking bread and talking about it: ancient Egyptians in the 20th century BC, public ovens in Rome, and the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness. Writings abound with metaphors such as: the staff of life and the bread of the world– populating biblical parables and present day parallels.

Father Robert West, former abbot of Assumption Abbey taught me something his mother always did before cutting a fresh loaf of bread. She inverted the loaf and blessed the bread saying the trinity prayer while making a small cross with the tip of her knife. This practice grounds me spiritually and reminds me that North Dakota is the breadbasket of the world.

The loaf in the photo (or what remains of her gift) was made by my friend, Liz– a consummate cook and host. This hearty bread is graced with sunflower seeds throughout as well as crowned on top. Of course, I forgot to take a picture when it was still whole and in its presentation basket wrapped in a lovely French napkin. But like the bread of the ages Liz’s offering was shared with extended family at the lake this weekend, and a piece headed to Hazen while the remainder came back to two households in Bismarck.

I’ve made countless kinds of bread in my life from homemade buns, to quick bread, to caramel rolls, and dozens of loaves from Dakota Maid mixes in my bread machine (these are a product of our state-owned mill and elevator).

I just realized I never make bread without giving part of it away.

I’ll confess that I really don’t have much patience for the act of serious bread making nor does my waist-line have the tolerance for much consumption. However, the best bread I’ve ever eaten (EVER!) was the bread bought at the village street markets in Provence France.  Their flour and baking technique allow the bread to blister on the surface which is the sign that the bread has achieved the proper rise and temperature while baking. One simply does not buy loaves without that characteristic.

Fast forward to today and imagine me grumbling as I scour every loaf of French bread in the supermarket looking for any hint of blisters and the store employee looking at me like I’ve swallowed yeast whole. So, my dear Julia Child, this foodie shall replay your DVR program on baking bread and give it a go. Bon Appétit!

Brunch: Featuring Eggs on the Grill

Gentle Reader: My first experiment with eggs on the grill started, as these things often happen, by inviting 3 friends to come for Sunday brunch on the porch. With that as my inspiration I decided to modify Ina Garten’s recipe for Herb Baked Eggs. Instead of the gratin dishes under the broiler I headed for the grill with each egg in the cup of a muffin tin. They took about 10 minutes under indirect heat and turned out beautifully. Easy too!

I added a few strips of roasted peppers (see post from last week) and roasted asparagus to dress the plates. Also served red swiss chard, grilled toast with marmalade and ginger preserves.

We embellished our brunch with a spritzer made with Prosecco, muddled cilantro, and fresh lime juice.

What a civilized way to spend a Sunday afternoon: simple food, good friends, 75 degree weather in North Dakota and surrounded by flower pots blooming everywhere.

Christening the H.M.S. Kitchen

Last week’s wine tasting was the shake-down voyage of my new stainless steel appliances. It maybe more aptly named the S.S. Kitchen since the 90 degree heat of the past week made it seem more like a steam ship. This captain* can report that everything worked beautifully and the appliances easily contributed several additional hands on deck.

 The mini-reno started in my frustration with a too small refrigerator, went sweeping like a North Dakota prairie fire to a convection/induction range, and etc . . . etc. When the smoke cleared, I even replaced the kitchen faucet with a semi-industrial pull down thingie.

While Alton Brown calls it a chill chest, around here we just call them “the fridge.” My observation is that one needs a fridge big enough to hold pantry items labeled “Refrigerate After Opening” PLUS all the things that are in various stages from construction to serving. Oh, and let’s not forget the aftermath: leftovers. It’s not easy to keep a shelf nearly empty knowing that it needs to be a combat-ready landing strip for platters of cheese and 14 lb. turkeys. One must be ruthless to avoid the chillier version of a junk drawer.

* No, I’m not the Queen of My Kitchen. That title is reserved for my 10-year veteran Kitchen-aid stand mixer.

Wine Tasting — The People’s Choices

We served 5 wines last night at “On the Vine” wine club hosted by yours truly. First, we had a blast. By “we,” I mean me and about 55 friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Here are the wines and food pairings I chose to represent 5 courses–each with its own wine.

  1. Salvatore Principe Prosecco 2009 served with grilled pineapple and watermelon. (Yes, I grilled the watermelon and about which I had many questions.) Tasters liked this prosecco with its pear and apple notes. It is very yellow in color and light to the palette.
  2. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2009 served with cucumber and shrimp bites. While a few tasters really liked this wine, it was the least consumed of all the offerings. Notes of mango, lime and herbs.
  3. Molly Dooker “The Boxer” Shiraz 2008 (New Zeeland) served with italian sausage and potato bites (both grilled). This wine made its debut in North Dakota and is ranked 91 points by Wine Spectator. It has a lovely balance of plum, blueberry, lavender, and yes, even a little smoky bacon.  
  4. Molly Dooker “The Maitre D'” 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon served with brie and Maytag blue cheeses–dressed with craisins and star fruit. Also making its ND debut, with dark berry, violets, root beer, and wood smoke. This wine was also a favorite of the group. Folks who love big red wines were in “hog heaven” comparing it with the Shiraz. Personally, I think the Shiraz won.
  5. Frisk Prickly Riesling-Muscat 2009 served with palmieres and strawberries.Now don’t go turning your nose up at a Riesling. Read on. It is light and minerally and spritzy. Both sweet and spicy. Tasters thought it was magic paired with the strawberries and palmieres.

Pulling corks can be a daunting task for a tasting this size. But in the new trend, all of these wines were screw top except for the prosecco, which was a traditional wired cork used on champagne.

Credit where credit is due: We are so grateful to Captain Jacks Liquorland (Tom Sitter) who supplies the wines for our group and worked with me to pair a great wine with the food I’d chosen. Also, Chad Bartz of Ed Phillips and Sons delivered the wine and came early to help get them ready.

My Kitchen, My Heart

First let me say that I love to cook . . . for myself, for family or for friends.  It doesn’t matter. The hearth is the heart of the home. It’s a wonderful diversion from my professional life and a creative outlet. For the most part, I’ve taught myself to cook through a lot of trial and error. I’m determined to be more than a good cook. I want to be adept in the kitchen.

My kitchen is small but amazingly efficient. Recently, I’ve undergone a cleansing of cabinets, utensils and gadgets. As I have become more experienced, I find that I want the best quality tools and supplies my money can buy and I want nothing in my kitchen that isn’t being used with some frequency. The real-estate is too expensive.

I’m a frequent-flyer at Cook’s Illustrated website researching recommended pantry items and equipment reviews. I even have a dog-eared photocopy in my handbag of their recommended supermarket pantry list. I read and compare reviews. I scope out and record my favs on Food Network and the Cooking Channel. I have a 3-ring binder of assorted recipes –often printed off the internet and I write notes in the margins.

I’ll let you know what I’m working on and what’s happening from time to time.