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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Shooting Stars

Living in the Woods

I love August in the northern woods. This time of year, one can literally smell the change of seasons in the night air.  Already gone are the too-hot nights of July when I throw my windows open and beg for a breeze off the lake to cool my bare skin as I sleep, fan humming overhead. 

White Pine
The air tonight is heavy and damp with the scent of white pine. It’s as if I can’t breathe in deeply enough.  I want to soak in that scent. The tiny wisp of cool breeze carries on it the sweet/spiciness from the huge pot of Thai basil next to me.  

I pulled a wicker chair to the railing and have propped my feet up, reclining my head to the sky.   Though I am deep in the woods, a little clearing allows an awesome (meant in the truest sense of the word) view of the universe above me. 

Three miles distance from the dim lights of the nearest small town allows the Milky Way to appear; a great white swath of stars laid across the center of the sky. Utterly stunning.  I have a few times been further north and in more open areas where it is visible, literally, from horizon to horizon. The big dipper appears huge tonight and lies squarely in front of me, tipped slightly forward as if pouring its contents into the lake below. 

Minnesota's State Bird, the Common Loon
Each year at this time, the Perseid meteor shower brings about a week of nights when you can reliably see shooting star after shooting star. Tonight, if I look up for just a few minutes, another star races across the horizon. Loons, calling across the lake to seemingly reassure each other of their presence, are giving the night an even more ethereal feel.  Each night, I sit and drink it in.
The chill in the air would be the perfect excuse to build a fire and sit up with friends and a good bottle of wine but that will wait for another night. Tonight I will lay an extra blanket on the bed, open the window and fall asleep to the call of loons. 
Fire & Water

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Warmed, Heart & Soul

There was a great deal of family lore about Ireland as I grew up. My father’s family claims some Irish ancestry but my mother’s side is the real source of the green in our blood.  We grew up listening to the Clancy Brothers, The Chieftans and the Dubliners and passed on that tradition to our kids; who more often now are listening to The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly but, Irish is Irish.

 When I got the chance to go to Ireland a few weeks ago, it was literally a dream come true. After a couple of days in Dublin we headed north to Inishowen, in northern Donegal  and then wound our way down the west coast through Counties Sligo, Mayo, & Galway all the way down to Killarney.

You will never believe what that pot of gold at the
end of the rainbow turned out to be...

We stayed in hotels, B&B’s and hostels, simply asking each evening at the local pub for a recommendation. We ended our trip at Dromoland Castle in County Clare (another story to come) and when it finally came time, two weeks later, to fly out of Shannon Airport, I was reminded of a scene in the movie Shirley Valentine where she watches her luggage wind its way up the conveyer belt, turns and walks away from the airport, refusing to leave Greece. If my husband hadn’t been there with me…

One of the many pleasures of Ireland is the food; in particular, the dairy products. Animals raised almost exclusively on rich, emerald green (literally!) grass give milk that is astoundingly rich and flavorful.  

In Killarney National Park

While in the southwest of Ireland, we toured Killarney National Park on a ‘horse and trap’ where we met our driver, Hugh, who in turn introduced us to his mother, Sheila, who ran a B&B on their nearby dairy farm. Of course, we could not resist the opportunity to stay on a working dairy farm (Valley View Farm) where we not only watched the milking but also were treated to a demonstration by the herding dogs that are also raised and trained on the farm.

One of 'the girls' at Valley View Farm

In the US, cream commonly found in stores has lower butterfat content than that found in Ireland making it less rich and thick than its European counterpart. In my opinion, we have taken the low-fat, low calorie craze to such an extreme that we can now rarely find products that have not been overprocessed and ‘dumbed down’ from their original marvelous origins. It’s FAT. Yes. And it tastes fantastic. Can I eat it every day and stay the same weight? Um, no; but I am not willing to give it up entirely.

On the Corrig Princess

On the Corrig Princess, a river cruise boat in Galway, we watched Irish Coffee made and that incredible, thick, rich cream spooned on top. While to whip or not to whip the cream is somewhat controversial among purists, I prefer a softly whipped version (call it a compromise), using high butterfat ‘old fashioned’ heavy whipping cream.  

Other controversies, to garnish with cocoa or nothing; brown sugar, raw sugar or cane sugar; or what brand of Irish Whiskey tastes best, I leave to others. I will listen in with my chilly hands wrapped around my own steaming mug of Irish Coffee.

Sipping at the source

And p.s. – don’t stir in the cream or they will know you are a 'Yank'. Sip through the cream for a delightful melding of hot rich sweetened coffee, Irish Whiskey and cool thick cream on top.


Irish Coffee
A Tasty Tutorial

In a chilled bowl, whip ½ pint of heavy whipping cream
Use the highest butterfat content whipping cream you can find for authentic flavor & thickness

Brew fresh, hot strong coffee

Warm a footed glass Irish Coffee Mug by filling with hot water

When the coffee is ready, discard the water and add 1 teaspoon of raw sugar to the mug, stir to dissolve sugar

Fill the mug 2/3 full with hot coffee

Add 1 ounce of good Irish Whiskey to the coffee
(Jameson, Powers, etc.)

Top with thickened, lightly whipped cream

Sprinkle the top of the whipped cream with unsweetened
cocoa powder, if you wish

Drink without stirring, the heavy blanket of cream holds in the heat of the coffee and the ‘warmth’ of the Irish Whiskey

Friday, February 24, 2012

Surprise Me~ Frozen Mango Mascarpone Cheesecake

Frozen Mango-Mascarpone Cheesecake

I do love a good cocktail party. From the guests toasting the man of the hour to right down to the fun mix of canapés and the end of the evening liqueur and cigars around the fire, they are, by far, my favorite type of event. And in a year of economic frustration and endless political fear-mongering, sometimes it feels good just to forget all of the craziness and kick back with friends.

My friends Kevin and Steve are Kings of the Cocktail Party and when I was asked to pull one together as a surprise for Steve's “40-somethingth” birthday, I was all in. By the time Steve arrived home, my favorite bartender, Marc, had been behind the bar entertaining guests and I had set out Bacon wrapped Medjool Dates filled with Foie Gras, Strawberries Stuffed with Honey Apricot Goat Cheese, Cornbread Crostini with Grilled Pork Tenderloin and little Caprese Skewers of grape tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. And all of this prepared in the kitchen of my RV. Challenging, yes. Impossible? Apparantly not!

I believe the biggest mistake most people make when trowing a cocktail party is to over-think it. To me, the key elements of a great party are:
  • Invite only people who you find fun and entertaining (leave the picky-crabby people at home)
  • Play fun music
  • Keep the food simple and prep ahead as much as possible
  • Buy food from a great source to save time when needed
  • If you can afford to hire a server and/or a bartender who will clean up as you go, do it. Money well spent. You can enjoy your own party and will not have to wake up to a disaster the next day.
  • And especially, remember: no one but you knows what is being served. If something flops, leave it out and smile.
There are a few things that are just perennial favorites and so easy to execute that I often reinvent them to vary them from occasion to occasion.

One such item is a recipe borrowed from Cove Point Lodge on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. They serve a ridiculously good Frozen Honey-Cinnamon Mascarpone Cheesecake and I have made it for a number of events. 

Sunset at Cove Point Lodge on Lake Superior

This time though, when it was requested for a dinner party with friends, I decided to mix it up. The original recipe has a praline crust and is topped with cinnamon that is swirled through the batter. Having a sudden urge for Mango (these things happen to me), I decided to make a Meyer Lemon Cookie Crust, leave out the cinnamon, and swirl in Mango Sorbet. The entire recipe takes about 20 minutes to mix and all you do is pop it into the freezer until firm. Crazy easy and crazy good. 

Ready for the freezer
Frozen Mango Mascarpone Cheesecake
Don't be afraid to play with this. Make it with a chocolate crust and swirl in caramel and chocolate sauce before freezing. Or make a shortbread crust with a marmalade/lemon curd swirl.

For the Crust
9 oz box Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins (or any lemon shortbread type cookie)
3 oz butter, melted

Place the cookies in a food processor and process until ground. Add melted butter and mix well. Press cookie crust into the bottom of a springform pan.

Yes, I shop at Trader Joe's but any brand will work

For the Filling:
1¼ cups whipping cream, whipped
8 oz Cream Cheese
8 oz Mascarpone Cheese
(Don't know how so say it? “mass-car-poan” -do not pronounce the 'e' at the end)
13 oz can Sweetened Condensed Milk
¼ cup Honey or Blue Agave Syrup
1½ pints Mango Sorbet, softened slightly (not liquid)

Whip the Cream, scrape into another bowl and set aside.
Without cleaning the mixing bowl, beat the Cream Cheese and the Mascarpone until soft and well combined. Add the Sweetened Condensed Milk and the Honey or Agave.
Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides a few times.
Fold in the whipped cream until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter onto the crumb crust.
preparing the Mango Sorbet

In the same bowl (no need to wash) place the slightly softened Mango Sorbet. Cut into chunks in the bowl if needed. Beat until the Sorbet looks like a similar consistency to the cream cheese mixture. It should be smooth and should mound on a spoon.

Mixing in the sorbet

Drop spoonfuls of the sorbet onto the top of the cheesecake. Use a table knife to swirl the sorbet through the cheesecake mixture being careful not to dip into the crust at the bottom. This is done with a folding motion similar to adding the whipped cream but this time leave large streaks of Mango through the batter. 


Place the pan or pans in the freezer for at least 4 hours or overnight. Cover with plastic wrap once the cheesecake is completely frozen. This can be made up to one week in advance and held frozen.

To serve, let the cake sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cut into slices. Makes 12-16 servings depending on the slice size desired.

Recipe Notes:
  • I used 4: 6” springform pans. No Springform? Line a straight sided cake pan with foil and continue. Once frozen you can pull the cheesecake from the pan, remove the foil and cut. Works like a charm.
  • Running a large sharp knife under hot water makes for cleaner cutting.
  • This recipe is neither low calorie nor low fat. I am a believer in making a great dish and eating less of it vs. modifying it to control calories.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Scent of Home

A potted herb garden

A few days ago, a Wednesday in December, I went to Lowe's outdoor garden center and bought herbs and flowers, tucked them into pots and set them outside onto the little patio area next to our RV; parked for the winter in Palm Springs, California. I marvel still at this flagrant display of disregard for winter, though the calendar confirms the date.
A ball carefully placed by Maggie for my notice

Each morning, I make a big steaming mug of tea, often from herbs picked and dried from my northern Minnesota garden nearly a year ago and sit in the sun with Maggie; me, plotting the day, she, returning the tennis ball I toss to her again and again. She is still perplexed by the idea of a chain, attaching her at a 20' length from the steps, something of a cruel joke to a 10 year old dog who almost never leaves my side. This is her first experience with such a clear assumption of future misdeeds but as long as I am present, she submits to the affront without indignation.

My sidekick

I used to sit with her on summer afternoons, 
reading in the herb garden near our house, 
with the pungent scent of black currant bushes on one side 
and the occasional breeze bringing me the scents of 
peppermint, chamomile and tarragon (long ago known by the 
mystical sounding name 'dragon's wort') on the other.

Contrary to gardening sense, early season herbs are the best to pick and dry for later use, holding the greatest amount of essential oils and therefore, flavor. Early summer was the time of year I would begin to gather and hang bunches of thyme, sage, savory, rosemary and tarragon for cooking and sprigs of mint and chamomile flowers for tea. Just as contradictorily, today I sit outdoors with my cup, just days before the winter solstice, celebrating at once the summers first harvest and the years end.

Cremini Mushrooms
At the end of the day, as I return home, I notice my newly planted herbs have perked up, having drunk in a rare southern California rain. The air is chilly and damp and I peer into our little refrigerator, deciding on dinner. Hmm. Pork tenderloin, mushrooms, a little goat cheese, lemons from a nearby tree, and herbs. I gather, mix, taste and stuff. A quick sear browns the exterior of the meat and I slip it into the oven (along with a handful of sweet potato wedges) until just medium. One taste and I am warmed instantly.

I slice a piece of Ciabatta from the loaf I purchased at the Farmers Market and sit, dog at my feet and after seemingly endless days and nights of sirens and city traffic noise I realize that it is suddenly, wonderfully and unexpectedly, as quiet as the northern Minnesota woods and I relax and enjoy this moment in time. 

Herbed Pork Tenderloin with Lemon and Herbs
This is a quick, easy and hearty dinner, ready in about 30 minutes. Serves 2-3

Local goat cheese and a lemon from a nearby tree

1 whole pork tenderloin – about 1¼ - 1½ #
Olive oil
1# cremini mushrooms, chopped
½ tsp chopped garlic
3/4 tsp rubbed sage
¼ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp dried thyme leaves
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 medium Lemon, zested and juiced (reserve separately)
2oz chevre cheese

Heat about 2 TBSP olive oil in a medium sauté pan.
Add chopped mushrooms, herbs and garlic and sauté until mushrooms are softened.
Add half of the lemon zest and all but 1 tsp of the fresh lemon juice.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Reduce the juices slightly then add goat cheese. It will melt into the mushrooms.
Place filling into a bowl and cool to lukewarm.
Lemon zest
Cut a pocket into the length of the tenderloin and stuff with the cooled mushroom mixture.
Seal the tenderloin by tying with string or with toothpicks.
Rub the tenderloin with the remaining lemon zest, salt pepper and lemon juice.
Sear the tenderloin in 1 tsp of olive oil until lightly browned.
Place the browned tenderloin in a baking dish and roast in a 350degree oven for 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes.
Remove the picks or string, slice and serve.
I like to serve pork with roasted sweet potato wedges and a salad.

Recipe notes:
  • Not a fan of mushrooms? Replace them with onions or winter squash. Sauté onions until caramelized, or squash until it begins to soften and continue the recipe.
  • The rules have changed. It is perfectly safe to serve pork medium to medium well. Using a meat thermometer will take the guesswork out of roasting meat. If you are unsure of appropriate cooking temperatures, look for one with indicators of rare, medium and well done, etc.
  • Warm dried herbs by rubbing between your palms over the pan. This releases the essential oils and ‘wakes up’ dried herbs.
  • You can make this up the night before, hold it in the refrigerator, then sear and roast when you are ready the next day. The roast may take slightly longer to come up to temperature once it is thoroughly chilled.
  • Microplane zesters are fabulous for citrus but any sharp grater will work.
  • Make your own tea blend by mixing some of your favorite herbs together and steeping in boiling water for 5 minutes. I like to blend a pinch of green tea leaves with a pinch each of peppermint and chamomile flowers. Lemon verbena leaf is another great 'tea herb' and is prolific when grown in pots. Fresh grated ginger and a dash of honey or a drop of orange oil are great additions, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Fresh citrus seems decadent to my Midwestern eyes

Just a dusting of snow so far
The last time I lived in California I was seven years old. It was on an Air Force base in Riverside, just an hour from this year's winter residence. I distinctly remember hanging upside down from the crossbar of a swing set with another little girl and talking about the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Whether we were determining to embark on some future mountain journey or just marveling at the snow, I don't remember but I find it interesting after all these years to be so nearly in the same place.

Only vague memories remain from those upside down years: bamboo growing near the back door, holding on to the back of a chair in front of the television and exercising with my mother to Jack LaLanne, chewing on a piece of raw sugarcane purchased as a treat from the local grocer and riding with my siblings in the back seat of the car through endless fields of citrus trees. 

Sampling oranges at the Farmers Market
Being back in Southern California is a huge mind bender for me. The snow-capped mountains are here indeed. Just past the palm trees. Snow. And palm trees. Farmers market stalls offering fresh strawberries and raspberries, any kind of fresh vegetable imaginable, local breads and things like orange juice squeezed to order or gorgeous orchids in an explosion of color complete the 'wonderland' landscape for me.

A Lisbon Lemon tree, heavy with fruit

Here in Palm Springs, citrus trees grow in nearly every yard, their branches holding the bright orange, green and yellow globes over the ubiquitous concrete walls that separate each small housing development. My Midwestern eyes can hardly believe the sight of grapefruit trees. Seriously. In your yard? In the back yard of my friends Kevin and Steve's home, a Lisbon lemon tree stands bent like a woman great with child. I cannot fathom how the branches, so laden with huge, heavy yellow fruit do not break under the weight. The lemons themselves are larger than any I have ever seen and beautifully fragrant when sliced.

A year round desert resident
Across the street from our place is a little neighborhood bistro, Cello's, where owners Tom and Bonnie Barkley make their own Limoncello from local fruit. In this tiny, warmly decorated space, you can sit at the bar, chat with whomever happens by and have a remarkable meal or a great glass of wine at the same time. A few weeks ago, a woman named Jo recounted to me an unexpected evening spent years ago in Palm Springs in the company of Frank Sinatra and friends. A little graffiti in the bar bears witness to a visit to the restaurant last January by Mike Grgich; signing the wall itself.

Maybe this is the way to really learn about a new place, one story at a time, each visit a new opportunity. Everyone here seems to be from somewhere else, drawn to the rugged beauty of the desert, mild weather and, seemingly central to the history of the state itself, the hope for a new start.


Bonnie Barkley was kind enough to share the recipe for Cello's signature dessert: Lemon Tiramisu, just in time for citrus season.


5 Egg yolks (reserve whites)
¼ C Sugar
½ C Limoncello

Mascarpone Cream
2C Mascarpone at room temperature

5 Egg Whites (reserved from above)
¼C Sugar

1C Limoncello
¾ C Fresh squeezed lemon juice (prefer Meyer lemons)
1C Water
½ C Sugar

74 Ladyfingers

For the Zabaglione: Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and Limoncello. Over low heat, whisk constantly until the zabaglione has thickened. Remove from heat and cool thoroughly.

For the Syrup: Combine all the syrup ingredients and place in a sauce pot over high heat. Bring to a boil until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove and cool completely.

Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, gradually adding sugar. Set aside.

For the Mascarpone Cream:
Once Zabaglione has cooled completely (this is very important) fold 1/3 of the mixture into the mascarpone cheese until blended. Add the remaining Zabaglione until blended. Fold in the meringue in several additions until blended into the Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture.

To assemble:
Dip Ladyfingers into syrup quickly (if you get them too wet they will fall apart) line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with a layer of ladyfingers. Top with Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture and repeat. After the 3rd layer of Ladyfingers top with remaining Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.

Serve with an aperitif of Limoncello or drizzle a little on top just before serving.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Heading west

As I went through the house one more time, seeking out forgotten items in upstairs closets, I placed them in one of three carefully categorized piles: Pack for storage, give it to family and friends or donate to charity.

The potted ficus tree I nurtured for some 15 years, growing from a literal twig to a tree standing 9 feet tall, gone to the local Arboretum; a box of liqueurs went to Amy, who will use them in colorful concoctions of jam and fruit sauce; the under-counter wine refrigerator off to Chris as a reminder of great conversations over a glass of some newfound spectacular juice. Room after room, pieces of a lifetime, carefully wrapped and stored for the future. As my hands turned black from ink on newsprint while wrapping empty canning jars, I couldn't help thinking that any other year on a colorful, crisp day in October, my hands would be black from digging potatoes. One of the last acts in the garden is one of my favorite chores. Savoring the the rich, musky scent of charcoal-colored Midwestern soil just before the ground freezes; I look forward to my next experience with it, now months away.

My life has changed.

Mount McKinley, Alaska

My husband, now working year round in the oilfields of northern Alaska and returning to Minnesota about every other month, understandably wanted to change his winter home to something that looks less like, well, winter. 

We scouted the region and on a recent trip to Washington State found our new home as we traveled through Missoula, Montana. It is a 31' RV. Summers at the lake, winters in the desert and gardens in pots, at least for now. 

At the Alamo

At Bandelier National Monument, NM

Pointing us west in Arizona
After traveling through Texas Hill County for a wonderful visit with family and spending a few days hiking near Santa Fe, we meandered to Palm Springs, California. An oasis in the desert. 

Becker Winery near Fredericksburg, Texas. Outstanding.

To my Midwestern small town sensibilities, Palm Springs seems at first too fast, too full of great masses of people moving constantly. But there is one remarkable advantage here. This is California. Swimmin' pools, movie stars and ridiculously fabulous Farmer's Markets. We're talking OMG. 

Hiking in Indian Canyons, Palm Springs

At the market in Palm Desert yesterday I bought lush local greens, freshly baked brioche, local goats milk Feta, local almonds and olive oil and four perfect, tiny organic pears for salads. I love connecting to a place, a tradition, a people through the food they produce. While my 'Northern Kitchen' has moved south for a few months, my Midwestern heart has not. I hope you will enjoy traveling with me this winter as I discover 'local' in a new locale and bring you a Northern perspective on this great, decadent garden called California.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Watermelon: A new slice on an old favorite

                   Sweet, salty and fresh. This is a huge favorite with anyone who tastes it.

What goes together better than watermelon and the 4th of July? I can't think of a thing but if you are looking for a more 'adult' way of serving this refreshing and classic fruit for the holiday, try this:

Cut the watermelon into slices and then into wedges and arrange on a serving platter.
Drizzle balsamic vinegar or a balsamic vinegar reduction* over the melon.
Crumble Feta cheese over the melon.
Cut fresh basil leaves into thin strips and sprinkle over the feta & melon.

Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar
Recipe Notes:
  • I used balsamic vinegar that I brought back from a trip to the Columbia Valley earlier in the year: California Napa Valley Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar. About $16 
  • If you want to make your own balsamic reduction (basically a syrup made from vinegar): Pour 1 cup (or more) vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a high simmer. Cook until reduced to the desired syrupy consistency. I also like to add a TBSP of brown sugar to the syrup about ½ way though the process for flavor. Here's the only trick: Watch carefully as it begins to thicken. This scorches easily, ruining the product. Use at room temperature.
  • I have not tried it, but you might take a few dried figs, a tsp of good vanilla and some balsamic vinegar and process them in a food processor or blender. This might give you a slightly thicker and wonderfully flavored product without reduction. Not thick enough? Cook it down a little.