Tzatziki

 
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It’s time. Harvest. My arms overfill each time I walk through the vegetable garden, which is each day. It’s that time of year, when everything is voluptuous and a bit wild. A short row of bush beans is excitable and wishes me good luck with all the beans. Constellations of cherry tomatoes in and around each bed; they hide too. The zucchini, well you know. Peas, I can’t keep up and now most of you are swollen on the vine. But I love it. Beets and their greens, kale soldiers, chive fountains, basil and mint draping over it all. My favorite garden motion, tugging the hair of the carrots and twisting them up and into the lit world.

And then there are the cucumbers. Only a single plant this year, since I have learned that one happy cucumber plant can get overwhelmingly fruitful. Now that it’s mid-August our vine produces at least a single cucumber each day; that’s a lot of cucumbers, even for a family that loves them. Beyond pickling and slicing them into salads, I am always looking for ways to make most of our cucumber harvest.

Tzatziki, a cucumber and yogurt sauce, does the seasonal trick, since most of the foods (like grilled fish or meat, or fresh vegetables) it pairs well with are the foods of summer. Rooted in Greece, tzatziki is a traditional accompaniment to falafel, gyros, kabobs, baked potatoes, vegetable and pita platters, and is a refreshing partner to spicy dishes. If anything, this dish is fun and uplifting to pronounce.

I encourage you, especially this time of year, to build your meals around these seasonal aspects. Build around a seasonal sauce, such as this one. Why not?

Tzatziki

Makes about 2-3 cups

MARKET LIST

1 large English-style cucumber
Kosher or sea salt and black pepper
2 cups Greek-style yogurt (thick, and preferably whole-milk)
1-2 garlic cloves
Fresh lemon juice (1 tablespoon)
Fresh mint or dill (about 2 tablespoons)
Sugar
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Ground paprika (optional)

Salting Cucumber

Peel, seed (if necessary), and dice 1 large English-style cucumber. Place the cucumber into a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and sprinkle over 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt. Let the cucumber sit for 15-30 minutes, allowing the salt to draw the moisture (and any bitterness) out.

Meanwhile, stir together in a medium bowl: 2 cups Greek-style yogurt (thick, and preferably whole-milk), 1-2 garlic cloves (minced or finely grated), 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons of fresh mint or dill (chopped), a pinch of sugar and a twist of black pepper.

Coming Together

Once the cucumber has relaxed pat it dry with paper towels, or gently squeeze it in a paper towel, removing any excess moisture. Stir the cucumber into the yogurt mixture and taste for further kosher or sea salt, or any other flavors. To serve, drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil (optional) and dust over some ground paprika (optional). Serve immediately, or chilled from the fridge.

 

5 Questions: Liz Avery

 
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Meet Liz Avery, master knitter, teacher, and scrappy solo cook. When she’s not working, or hiking, or rollerblading, or finishing crosswords and drinking coffee, or skating for her local roller derby club, or engaged in her board-game or trivia group, Liz is impressively pulling together a delicious hodgepodge to fuel her uniquely active life.

What does eating well look like for you?

Prepared at home, in a simple manner, and with a bit of impromptu creativity thrown in. This is the way my mom cooked, and she loves to tell the story about me chiding her when I was a teenager: “Can’t you just follow what the recipe says?” But this kind of flexibility in my cooking helps me honor economy, tailor a meal to my preferences, and is a favorite kind of puzzle. My friends tease me for loving leftovers, but I love the thrift and ease of enjoying a dish for many meals. I mostly make a batch of something, then eat it all week. Usually it’s a curry with rice or quinoa, a pan of something - or a stew. Interspersed are salads, and eggs for at least one meal a day. There’s usually a plethora of fresh fruit and veggies in the fridge as well, so those are usually my snacks and are packed into dishes probably more than is enjoyable to most people.

What is a favorite and reliable everyday dish for you?

Usually eggs and veggies find their way into a wrap, onto toast, or atop leftover rice with garlic, greens and toasted sesame seeds.

What I called ‘impromptu creativity’ comes from my tenuous relationship with most recipes. I’ll start to make a dish, figure out I am missing some percentage of the ingredients, and then make it my personal challenge to make some semblance of the dish only using what’s in my fridge and cupboard.

Can you share a defining food memory?

Any time I’ve ever had freshly fried cake donuts. Just plain, no sugar or icing. The time I had apple cider donuts hot out of the fryer at the orchard in Champaign, IL - that was living.

What topics around food are you most interested in, and why?

In a past life, I sourced foods for a small business and I worked on an organic farm, so I appreciate the relationships businesses and consumers can have with small distributors and producers. For this reason, I have particular loyalty to my favorite coffee roasters, and will always seek out a farmer’s market in season. I’m also interested in thoughts around eating out vs. eating in. I am secretly someone who will always prefer to eat at home or at someone else’s table over going out to a restaurant. It turns out I consistently feel overwhelmed with choices on a restaurant menu. I prefer to indulge in providing or sharing special foods I love at home, where things are more casual. I rarely eat out as a convenience, but only on special occasions, for a meal I crave and can’t do justice to at home.

I have to ask. What would you hope for as a last meal on this earth?

Any pizza from Salvatore’s Tomato Pies (in Madison, WI) with red sauce and an antipasto with garlic confit on a perfectly-toasted baguette with a fresh greens salad and a Lake Louie’s Reserve Warped Speed Scotch Ale.

Paper Boat

 
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On this day, one year ago, I fashioned this paper boat and set it in the flow of the Mississippi River. My husband was quite ill, and we weren’t sure where the illness would go. With great difficulty I decided to let my latest project, Goosefoot, go, since I felt compelled to turn all my energy towards his health. Goosefoot felt like a guilty-pleasure, like something I needed to trade in.
***
And now. One year beyond the paper boat, beyond the trauma of that moment in time, my husband is thriving. The boat, I should mention (and please laugh), failed to do the romantic and drift off that morning. It stuck itself into grasses at the river’s edge, capsized and sank before my eyes. Life is strange. And quite beautiful and disheveled and always surprising.

Blueberries at Rush River

 
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Although we grow many berries on our condensed city lot: serviceberries, honeyberries, raspberries, alpine strawberries, I have never had the wherewithal or luck in growing blueberries. They are stubbornly particular about their living conditions, and I haven’t been the most hospitable gardener when it comes to keeping up. But even though our property blesses us with fruit, we are gluttonous, and so each mid-summer we pack a picnic and sunhats and bug spray, and drive an hour southeast of the city to the enchanted Rush River farm in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.

Once we bend away from Hwy 10 things start rolling, green hills contouring, and all things lighten, including traffic. The car climbs steadily, up into the atmosphere of the Mississippi River Valley, where the bluffs are surprisingly majestic. Rounding a wide bend we take the familiar turnoff, and snake our way along the gravel road that eventually ends at the distinct white farmhouse. It is here where we gleefully pour out of the car, stretch our limbs, smell the air, and nod past the rows of gooseberries and currants.  We are here for the blueberries, and there are nine acres of them, soldiered endlessly down the hill.

My young daughter grabs her long and shallow cardboard box and darts into the berries. I won’t see her for a while, and when I do she’ll be flushed and a little lightheaded from eating too many berries too quickly. It’s inevitable and traditional; it is always hot when we pick and she can’t help herself. I like to pick alone too, and listen to the stories people tell one another while they pick nearby. I have heard some of the most tender things in those fields.

After the sun has overly-cooked us we have a picnic beneath an ancient tree, and sigh. Another year of blueberry picking is over, we lament. Time for heading back along the contours, where I’ll resolve what to do with our harvest. Always my first thought: clafoutis.

Blueberry Clafoutis

Serves about 6

The rustic clafoutis is a sturdy custard pudding that is studded with fruit. To me, it is delicate and refreshing, and a most elegant summertime dessert. Each year, at the height of blueberry season, after we’ve picked boxes of blueberries from our favorite U-Pick farm, this is the first dish our blueberries fold into. I bring this dessert to summertime potlucks since it is so simple to pull together, and is a bit of a nice surprise to those at the table.  Although this recipe asks for blueberries, any berry or any fruit really, can be substituted. Also, I ask you to bake this in a casserole dish, but you can always bake this into individual ramekins if you like. So much room for play! 

MARKET LIST

4 large, sustainable eggs
All-purpose flour (2/3 cup)
Fine sugar ((1/2 cup)
Vanilla extract
¾ cup cream
1 cup milk (preferably whole)
Kosher salt
Kirsch, cognac, or orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
2 cups blueberries
Powdered sugar

Making the Batter

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Liberally butter a ceramic or earthenware baking dish (about 2-quart size), or a 10-inch cast-iron pan or heavy pie pan. In a blender (or food processor, or large bowl) add 4 large, sustainable eggs (preferably room temperature), 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup fine sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3/4 cup cream, 1 cup milk (preferably whole), pinch of kosher salt, and 1-2 tablespoons Kirsch, cognac, or orange-flavored  liqueur (optional), and blend until combined.

So Simple

Add about 2 cups fresh blueberries into the baking dish in an even layer, and pour the batter over. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until it has evenly puffed and is golden, and is just firm to the touch. Allow it to cool on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes; watch for the clafoutis to deflate a bit.

Once it’s cooled down, dust over some powdered sugar.  Serve it either in wedges, or spoon servings out. Serve this dish at room temperature, but store in the refrigerator, well-covered, for up to a few days.

In the Making

In the Making

More and more, I see the act of cooking as worthy in itself. That it should be valued for the experience it gifts us, and perhaps less so for the final product—the dish—it produces. Like gardening, or other practices that entail patience, humility and labor, most of the credit is found in the act itself, before the bloom of the flower, or before the bud.

Before we plate or even eat our salad, we must gather our ingredients, wash them, slice what should be sliced, whisk away a while. Taste for salt, or lemon, add more heat, notice what’s fragrant or burning, scrub the garlic from our fingertips, and listen to our children scamper through the kitchen, pouring into the backyard. This is life. And all of it happened in that seemingly benign moment—in the making of dinner.

A kind of play, a kind of agency transpires in the kitchen. We don’t notice, only because the culture reinforces the notion that cooking is quaint, or entertainment, or intimidating and too-involved, or as something to bustle through in order to move on to the next thing. What is that next thing? Anyhow, it is understood as a means to an end, and anyway, there is always take-out or a deli salad. With all of that, we are understandably disconnected from the venue of the kitchen, and the important acts that take place there.

It is here we get a bit dirty. We knead, and learn the practice by kneading again. A kind of voting booth, we choose our ingredients and concoct our own versions of the dishes we want to eat. And so we are generous with our imaginations, adding pistachios to this or ketchup to that. Our instincts get some exercise; even with our backs turned, our noses tell us to turn the heat down on those onions. It is a place of creation, and a place where we get to nourish our bodies and the bodies of those we feed.

I wonder something unusual: before we expect people to produce beautiful, homemade meals with integrity—such is the subliminal pressure—or even integrate home cooking back into everyday life, we need to simply be in the kitchen. Dramatically, we need to step over the threshold, with fresh perspective, with our senses at the ready. To partake and explore there, regardless of the dish being made or how it turns out. But the act of cooking is in of itself a beautiful, enriching playdate.

5 Questions: Karen Kopacz

5 Questions: Karen Kopacz

Meet Karen Kopacz, true Renaissance woman. As a busy artist, designer, storyteller, and explorer, Karen is generally folded into a dozen purposeful, creative projects at any given time. But she also values pause, a mid-week walk in the woods, and as I can attest to, long and engaging meals with those in her life.

What does eating well look like for you?

I am a busy creative and I live and work alone, so my eating patterns can get a little chaotic. Balancing meals is a challenge and I’m always working on it. I love sharing beautiful meals in a relaxed way with others, and often do. It’s also not unusual that I am running out the door with a meal in a bag. For me, eating well means that the food I buy is healthy, but also that I am doing my best to support businesses and restaurants that participate in a healthy food system. It means that I enjoy what I eat, and share experiences around food. And, that sometimes my meal is a slice of cheese, a handful of blueberries, Castelvetrano olives and some unsalted nuts, and that’s just fine too, because I’m buying quality food.

What is a favorite and reliable everyday dish for you and your family?

Dolphin-safe tuna from a can mixed with sesame oil, ume plum vinegar, safflower mayo, lemon, Sriracha or chili oil, sea salt, pepper. (Less than 10 minutes to make. Make a sandwich, tuna melt, or mix into a salad.)

Can you share a defining food memory?

Almost a decade ago, I stopped offering pro bono design services to acquaintances who didn’t have a design budget, and instead offered to trade an evening of strategy and design if they would come to my house with a bottle of wine and cook a meal for us to share. With food, dreams, and discussion on the horizon of every session, I was able to be of service and fill my house with energy. These sessions were productive, memorable, and joyful. With food as the hub, and our well-fed bodies and brains, we created some lovely, collaborative experiences together. Some of my most valued friendships began this way. Echoes of this arrangement still exist, sometimes in the homes of others. Anytime design, food, and a meeting of the minds intersect, I feel very grateful.

What topics around food are you most interested in, and why?

I think food is medicine. My grandmother used to say, “If you don’t eat well, you pay to the doctor.” I believe in good food, real food, and working toward good habits around food. I say “working toward” because I do not want to associate feelings of guilt with food, and my habits are far from perfect. I may not cook often, in the traditional sense, but good food is as important to me as nature, art, and love. Lately, I don’t have it in me to grow food, but have been spending a lot of time in nature, and have been curious about foraging. I’m very familiar with identifying plants from countless walks with my mother, a master gardener, and a long-time friend who is an herbalist. But now I’m learning how to identify more of what is edible, and when and where to gather food. I ask a lot of questions, listen to the occasional podcast, and read articles. But it’s actually doing it (carefully and safely) that helps me connect my food to seasons, ecosystems, and the environment. And, it’s yet another way to share joyful experiences with others around food. 

I have to ask. What would you hope for as a last meal on this earth?

This could change on any given day, but today… First course: sashimi tuna with wasabi and radicchio and a glass of Château Bréjou Bordeaux (from my dad’s weirdly unending supply of French wine). Main course: wood-fired pizza with ramps and morels. Desert: cardamom and rose rice pudding with pistachios, a rose and honey chocolate, and, since I’m dying, I’ll go ahead and have a Pimm’s Provencal and a Bistro Bijou. (This makes no sense as a meal, but who cares.) Add 50 of my closest friends and a farm table outside on a spring day, and I’m already in heaven.

Wake Up at the Farmers Market

Wake Up at the Farmers Market

It starts at the corner brat stand, where my tired senses come to life. Each Saturday morning, we funnel in to the rows at the downtown farmers market. The earthy stink of the raw milk sheep cheese pulls me to the right, but then I am jolted into a field of lavender baskets. Across the aisle is the small woman who fries egg rolls, and then all I want to eat is a paper cup of egg rolls. Most alluring are the tables of Hmong growers with their unidentifiable wares, and I flirt with their English-speaking children who tell me what is what. Amaranth, I’ll take some, Malabar spinach, what to do with that.

The farmer market is an adventure, a place to wake up, certainly a place to eat. Turns out, this week’s meal plan is a tribute to the farmers market. Nearly all on the shopping list can be found there, beyond your pantry staples. Here is a recipe from this week’s plan that goes to show, the simple and utterly flexible spring roll. A perfect dish for a long, quiet holiday weekend like this one; a communal dish to put together and eat together.   

Endless Spring Rolls

Makes 8 rolls (or as many as you like…)

Endless because there are too many ideas for fillings, and there are endless rolls to make. My eyes are usually wider than my belly when I sit before a long platter of spring rolls. This is a communal dish, to make and eat and share. My young daughter can fill hers with whatever she fancies, and they are so enjoyably clumsy to put together (at first). Rolling these takes a bit of practice, but after you’ve made one or two, you’ll get the hang of it. Keep in mind, these rolls aren’t ideal for storage, and so make them close to when you’ll be eating them.

MARKET LIST

Rice wine (or white wine) vinegar
Chili oil
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts
Sugar
Rice vermicelli noodles (2 ounces/ 8 rolls)
Your Fillings (refer to the Endless Fillings section)
Rice paper roll wrappers (8 ½ inch)


Peanut Dipping Sauce

Make your sauce first; it will want to relax anyhow and allow the flavors to mingle. Combine in a bowl: 2 tablespoons of rice wine (or white wine) vinegar, 3 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of chili oil (consider, this will add significant heat), 1 garlic clove (minced or shredded), 3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts (chopped), and 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Rice Vermicelli

Rice vermicelli noodles give these rolls a foundation and substance, but you can always omit them if you prefer. Soak and drain about 2 ounces rice vermicelli per the package directions, and set aside.

Endless Fillings

Consider that you’ll be using a handful of filling per roll. Here is a just an off-the-cuff list of spring roll fillings; please mix and match and make them to your and your eaters’ taste. Ready your fillings now and lay out on a platter or plate.

Protein: cooked (perhaps leftover) pork, lamb, shrimp, fish or seasoned tofu

Vegetables, etc: carrots (peeled strips, or matchsticks), mushrooms (sliced), cucumber (peeled strips, or matchsticks), avocado (sliced), spring onions or scallions (sliced), chilies (sliced), kohlrabi (matchsticks), radishes (sliced or matchsticks), Asian greens (shredded), cabbage or lettuces (shredded), summer squash (matchsticks), cress or sprouts, fresh ginger (matchsticks)

Herbs: Chopped or whole leaves of cilantro, basil, mint

Spring Roll Wrappers

Prepare to soak 8 rice-paper roll wrappers (8 ½ in.) individually, right before you are ready to fill and roll each parcel; this only takes a moment. (You are simply trying to rehydrate these dried sheets, and make them pliable for rolling.) Fill a wide bowl or deep plate that has a larger diameter than the wrappers with warm water, and soak the wrappers one-by-one by sliding into the warm water. Leave the sheet there for a few seconds—any longer and it will become too soft and sticky; you are really just dipping it into the water. Remove the moistened (but still slightly firm) sheet and place it on your cutting board; leave it for a moment before filling and rolling.

Let’s Roll

Arrange a generous amount of your fillings in a rough line about an inch away from the edge nearest you. Fold that shorter edge over and tightly tuck it below the filling, then roll again to secure it. Bring up the left and right sides of the paper and fold them over. Carry on rolling until you’ve rolled it entirely. Set the finished roll on a plate covered with a lightly-dampened tea towel while you perform the same theatrics with the rest of your spring rolls; protect the other finished rolls beneath the moistened towel.

You’re Done

Well, unless you’d like fancifully plate your rolls. Choose to slice them down the middle on the diagonal, and arrange them just so. No matter, serve with a small dish of dipping sauce. Voila!

5 Questions: Tony Grossman

5 Questions: Tony Grossman

Meet Tony Grossman, seriously active dad to three animated, freckle-faced kids, and owner and beginner- farmer at Earnest Acres Farm in Wisconsin. He is the chief cook in the family, a sustainable-farming advocate, and as you’ll see, a prolific taco maker.

What does eating well look like for you?

Eating well, for me, would include: produce that is seasonal and locally-sourced as possible, meats that are not tainted with antibiotics, hormones, or torture/immoral living conditions, and grains that are whole and diverse. Eating well also mandates a comfortable space, shared with loved ones and anyone who is hungry. It demands calmness and gratitude towards those who sacrificed to either grow or be the food, and gratitude towards those who cook the food.

What is a favorite and reliable everyday dish for you and your family?

Breakfast Tacos. I lived in central Texas for 3 years of my life and can proudly say that for most of those mornings I had a breakfast taco. Why we bold northerners have not figured out that this is the most efficient and wholesome way to start a morning, I do not know. Tacos are easy to make, and can include almost anything from your fridge if paired and cooked right. Maybe I love them because I don’t like to follow recipes and you can wing tacos in every way; they are the easiest conduit for getting eggs and veggies into my children. Maybe I love them because other than coffee, nothing smells better than fried onions in the morning. I’m not sure, but my family always seems to be happy after a good breakfast taco.

Can you share a defining food memory?

Upon moving back to Minnesota I serendipitously landed a job at the Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli as a produce worker. I worked alongside intelligent lovers of food and sustainable farming practices, people striving to eat better and support a local food system. After three years I was totally and completely inspired to grow as much food as possible in as many places as possible. I was inspired to eat whole foods grown sustainably and to provide seasonally-appropriate meals (as often as possible anyway) to my children, no matter the cost to the food budget.    

What topics around food are you most interested in, and why?

I love to grow food. I love to experiment with growing food. So naturally any knowledge or information pertaining to this peaks my interest. One of my favorite things is to listen to older generations talk about the past, but growing food in particular is fascinating for me. Beyond this I am interested in advancing towards change in our food system. I believe that in some ways our country’s system of eating and distributing food has led us down a path of poor health. I believe we need to motivate future generations to learn how to grow their own food and to support a cooperative model of food sharing.

I have to ask. What would you hope for as a last meal on this earth?

For sure it would be a meal prepared by someone else. Food always tastes better to me whenever someone else cooks it. I would probably demand a full Indian-style buffet banquet with paneer in every dish.