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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.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All in a Summer's Day

Crostini Topping: Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Artichokes

Summer. It has barely begun, yet I feel I am running from place to place as fast as I can. From the north woods to the north shore to Minneapolis and back again: business, errands, family. So much for those long leisurely days in the garden.

Todd Menton playing the bodhran

Last weekend seemed especially hectic for everyone I know. Friends Bob and Arlene Jones, owners of The Farm on St. Mathias, hosted the 3rd Annual Celtic Festival at their CSA; neighbors Kevin and Steve entertained their extended family of 60 at the Gull Lake Yacht Club; others were holding graduation parties, packing up for camping trips or attending another June wedding. 

3rd Annual Celtic Festival  

Reunion preparations at the Gull Lake Yacht Club

The weekend was also one of the few breaks in the weather we have had this spring. As anyone in the Upper Midwest can tell you, the rain here has been incessant, skipping over places like Oklahoma and Texas that desperately need it and 'gracing' us, up to our knees. But Saturday was a jewel; light breezes, bright sun and puffy marshmallow clouds giving just enough peek-a-boo shade to keep the day from feeling uncomfortably hot.

Sunday night came as a welcome rest after all that craziness. I snipped some peonies from the garden (putting my life at some risk climbing up a stone wall to do so), created a makeshift bouquet for the table and wandered inside.

Smoked Salmon from Morey's
 In town earlier in the day I was happy to remember that Morey's Seafood Market was open on Sunday and stopped in for inspiration. Smoked salmon? Yes, definitely. Hmm. I had asparagus at home from the farmers market...artichokes? Too warm outside to enjoy one of those steamy cheesy dips. What about a chunky crostini topping? I was on to something. I finished my shopping by adding a baguette to the mix and headed home to play in the kitchen. 

Meditrina from Sokol Blosser

I decided to 'call in backup' for the eating part of my little exercise, there being another week to go before my husband was home to take his place as taster, and called my neighbors. The evening was cloudy but the rumbling and the rain held off until after dark, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the loons calling across the lake while we sipped a pretty little blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir from Oregon.

As we sat on the deck overlooking Lake Margaret we talked about future travel plans, the puppies, the beautifully restored Chris Craft motoring past us on the lake; everything and nothing. After weeks of running it was a moment of quiet entertainment that one lives for in these woods.

Next week will be crazier than the last, with a quick trip to Minneapolis, then Bayfield with friends and back to the North Shore for work; another whirlwind of go-go-go. But just now I was enjoying the moment, the loon calls and the easiness of a summer evening shared with friends.

Salmon, Artichoke and Asparagus Crostini
Light, flavorful and quick. Perfect for a summer evening.

12 oz Smoked Wild Salmon
1 6oz jar quartered Marinated Artichokes, broken (reserve marinade)

2 TBSP Pure Olive Oil
½ Sweet Yellow Onion such as Vidalia, rough chopped
½ # fresh local Asparagus, cut into 1 1/2" pieces
½ tsp dried Thyme Leaves
½ tsp dried Dill Leaves
Kosher Salt and fresh ground Pepper
Shaved Parmesan, if desired

Clean salmon by removing skin, fat and bones. Break into large flakes.
Reserve 2 TBSP marinade from artichokes. Set aside.
Break artichokes into chunks and add to salmon in a medium bowl.
Heat olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add onion and asparagus and saute until just softened.
Add herbs by rubbing them in your palms over the dish. Taste and season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Add marinade from artichokes. Reduce liquid almost completely, remove mixture from heat and cool.
Toss lightly with flaked salmon and artichokes . Serve on toasted baguette slices & top with shaved parmesan. Serves 4

Recipe notes:
  • Rough chopping is just a way of saying 'chunky and irregular' vs. neatly and evenly cut. I think it suits this rustic dish.
  • This mix would be as at home in a frittata or as a topping for fresh greens as it is a topping for crostini.
  • I used a sweet yellow onion but sautéed, chunky-cut shallots would also be wonderful in this recipe.
  • Try adding chopped pepperoni or proscuitto, or roasted garlic, if you have it on hand.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Golden Rice

Want a different take on Wild Rice? This dried fruit and spice packed version is one of my favorite ways to use it.

Golden Rice
This is one of my favorite takes on this tasty grain.

1 ½ cups cooked Wild Rice
1 ½ cups cooked Basmati Rice
1/3 cup chopped Dried Apricots
1/3 cup Golden Raisins
½ cup Sliced Almonds
1/3 cup Chopped Red Onion
1 tsp ground Cardamom
1 tsp ground Ginger
½ tsp ground Cinnamon
½ tsp Turmeric
¼ tsp ground Cloves
¼ cup chopped Parsley
1½ tsp Ruth’s Spicy Mango Sauce or substitute a prepared chutney to taste

Cook the grains separately. Toss together with the remaining ingredients. Serve hot or at room temperature. May be made ahead and reheated gently.

Recipe Notes:
  • Other grains such as wheat berries, brown rice, couscous and barley may be added to or substituted for the rice.
  • Cook each grain separately in vegetable or chicken stock for the best texture and flavor.
  • Ruth’s Spicy Mango Sauce can be found in many grocery stores among the sauces and condiments (or order it online) and gives a great zip to this dish.I have substituted various kinds of pureed chutney with great results.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

North Shore Yearnings: Cove Point Lodge

Rush Hour Traffic in the Duluth Harbor

The first time I drove over the hill overlooking Lake Superior I was in awe. Interstate 35 literally cuts the country in half, running from Laredo, Texas all the way to Duluth, Minnesota and the international inland seaport of Superior. As you near Duluth you gain elevation until, almost unexpectedly, the Great Lady lays before you, as far as you can see.

The completed trail will run 86 miles along the North Shore

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and one of the deepest. Even on those few days each summer when insufferable heat marches down the hill to the very edge of the lake and the sand burns your sandaled feet with each step, it is nearly too cold to stand in the shallows.

Dog Tired
A Different Pace
The north and south shores of the lake could not be more different. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, considered one of the top sailing spots in the world, is just an hour and a half drive east from Duluth to Bayfield, Wisconsin. We have sailed among these twenty two islands (collectively, rather than individually, named for the Apostles) on many occasions and on many more, taken the ferry across to Madeline Island for hiking, shopping or just to party with friends at Tom's Burned Down Cafe. 

The Ice Caves near Meyers Beach

The elevations are somewhat lower here and the softer sandstone cliffs have been carved by thousands of years of waves into gaping caverns. We have hiked to these caves in winter from Meyers Beach, finding them coated inside and out in heavy slabs of ice, like massive sculptures.

Bayfield, Wisconsin

I am one of those people who has become enchanted by this huge expanse of water, at times docile and others immensely violent. Old fishermen sit at places like The Rum Line Bar or Morty's in Bayfield and tell harrowing stories of ducking into the shelter of Stockton Island 'just in time' or bailing water as fast as their arms could move “there is no bilge pump faster than a scared man with a bucket”. We are fair weather sailors and are far more likely to be taking photos of the occasional huge breaking waves from the shore.

Watch the Red Bull Surfing Team surf Lake Superior in March of 2011. The team was staying at Cove Point Lodge (buildings in the background).

Hiking the North Shore

The North Shore, along the high elevations of the Sawtooth Mountains, a mile or two inland, is a great contrast to its twin. The mountains skirt this side of the water with the Superior Hiking Trail running their crest. The trail runs from Duluth to the Canadian Border, some 277 miles. Here you see the massive basalt cliffs and the highest point on the lake, Palisade Head. The deep waters off the north shore make anchoring all but impossible in most areas, 1000 foot commercial ships and commercial fishing boats a far more common sight than sailboats.

Waterfall along the trail

This is hikers paradise, waterfalls flowing toward the lake at every turn, State Parks like Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche and Temperance River following the shore north toward Grand Portage and the Canadian border.

Cove Point

Just a few miles north of Split Rock Lighthouse, I am lucky enough to be working for a few weeks at Cove Point Lodge, built in 1995. Literally a stones throw from the water, each of the lodge rooms face the lake and the more recently built Fjord “cabins” (beautiful 2 and 3 bedroom homes) are just up the path.

I take my morning coffee down to Mickey's Fish House, a small building on the waters edge that once belonged to a local commercial fisherman, and lean on the deck railing. I feel the light spray of the morning waves on my face. Maybe I could live in this little building, nestled in the cove and run a porta-bar for tips or dole out firewood? I could pretend to be an old haggard fisher-woman and tell tales of near death on the lake like those old sailors in the bars of Bayfield.

Okay, maybe not, but it is romantic to think about it. For now, I guess I'll just finish my coffee and get back to work.       

Cove Point Lodge Wild Rice

Cove Point Lodge is just 4 miles north of Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. This wonderful Wild Rice Pilaf is often served with dishes like their House Walleye or Steak and Steelhead (Trout) special. 

1 ½ # organic Minnesota wild rice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 med red onion chopped
1 med yellow onion chopped
2 c shredded carrot
1 ½ c slivered almonds
1 c green onion
1½ -2 TBSP Brown Sugar
S&P to taste

Cook wild rice in salted water or stock, drain & cool slightly.
While rice is cooking, sauté red and yellow onion in olive oil until translucent. Place in large bowl.

To sautéed onions, add carrot, almonds, green onion and cooked wild rice. Mix thoroughly. Stir in brown sugar. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm. Rice can be made a day ahead and reheated in a little stock on the stovetop or in the microwave. 

Sunrise on Lake Superior
Recipe Notes:
  • You will find 2 kinds of wild rice from Minnesota: the darker colored cultivated wild rice grown in long oblong paddies, is often sprayed for pests and is combine harvested. California actually now grows more cultivated “wild” rice than Minnesota. Lighter colored truly 'wild' rice that is harvested by small boats along lake shores and in marshes and is a naturally organic product. It is a little harder to find and may be more expensive than it's cousin but if you look for organic wild rice you are likely to find it. 

  • Experiment! Cook different grains separately (wheat berries, quinoa, etc.) and then combine to create different textures. Grains and dried fruits also go together beautifully. Add dried apricots, golden raisins, cherries or other fruits as you like. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crawling Toward Summer: Rhubarb Tarts

Creamy Rhubarb Cheese Tart

I noticed yesterday, while moving the hose to water my currant bushes, that our yard has been graced by not one, but two, turtle nests. When turtles lay their eggs, they scoop out the sand in a distinctive pattern, like a sort of snow angel in the sand. We didn't see the mothers at their work but from the size of the nests they are probably painted turtles, as common as snappers in this area. Both nests face precisely west, as if these absent mothers wanted to point their babies in the right direction, downhill toward the water for the 200 or so yards they will travel to the relative safety of the lake. Spring has arrived.

Chives in the Herb Garden    
I am doing a bit of traveling for work this year and each time I return after a week or so away, the changes are remarkable. The rhubarb, under the last stubborn pile of snow just 5 weeks ago, is full grown now and ready for picking. The black currants have finished flowering and have set fruit, a little late this year. I inspect them daily, willing them to ripen faster, anxious for the huge black fruits, a variety called 'Ben Sarek', as big as ripe blueberries. 

Hops on the trellis

Northern gardens don't have the luxury of long, sleepy starts and slow growth. They are a riot of activity, plants bursting through the soil in brilliant green and racing to full size in 60 or 90 or 120 days to beat, first the heat and then the frost, in their fervor to reproduce. The hops, climbing a trellis on the northwest corner of the property are putting on a full foot of growth per day; an astonishing feat for any plant. I look forward to the canopy of shade they create for outdoor reading all summer long and their beautiful cone-like green flowers; the fruit that beer brewers covet. 


The loons have returned to the lake now and are hatching their young, I hear them mournfully calling to each other across the water as I return to the house. Our neighbors Kevin and Steve have invited me to join them on their boat tonight in a 30 minute ride to Lost Lake Lodge for dinner. If we are lucky, we may see the mother birds with babies hitchhiking on their backs, protected from predators below the water's surface.

                  Maggie, photo-bombing the Rhubarb

I return to the rhubarb and cut most of the great red celery-looking stalks, leaving the largest and toughest stalks to regenerate the plant. My friend Stacy's words come to mind as their tart perfume envelops me. When she stopped by yesterday she remarked on the size of the bushes this year. “There is just something about rhubarb. I look forward to it every year but    somehow in that first bite I realize I have forgotten just how amazing it is.” Or perhaps rhubarb, starring in some sort of cosmic role, is reminding us just how amazing Spring really is? Pea shoots, the first greens snipped from the garden, peppermint spreading in the north garden like a weed, Siberian Iris ready to flower. I often race past them to the next project, forgetting why I planted them in the first place. Is there a lesson for me in those fantastic first flavors?  

spring flavors

Rhubarb is one of the few truly seasonal fruits left. We have managed to find a way to either chemically manipulate the storage of fruits or ship from distant lands fruit like pears and clementines, once rare and fragile, so that you can roll into a grocery store virtually anywhere in the country and find them year round. Yet rhubarb remains safe in the backyards of northern gardens, the domain of grandmothers and urban farmers alike. 

Pork Chops with Rhubarb Sauce on the grill

I cut a couple of stalks the other day as a tease and sautéed them in olive oil with yellow onion, a touch of garlic, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. After adding a little water to thin it to a sauce, I spooned it over pork chops on the grill. It was lightly sweet and lightly tart with just the right touch of richness from the balsamic vinegar. My husband slathered the remaining sauce on bread, declaring it “too good to put in the frig”.

I am in no hurry for the height of summer this year, content to see the turtles hatch in their time and to spend a little more time in the herb and flower garden, taking in the mix of fragrances. I will play with some of the rhubarb stalks today but freeze most of the chopped stalks. Maybe I can hold on to that 'first bite of Spring' feeling a little longer that way.

Creamy Rhubarb Cheese Tart

1 ¼ c flour
2/3 c rolled oats
½ c brown sugar, packed
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ c cold butter

½ c lightly toasted walnuts, chopped, if desired.

Lightly grease the bottom of 6 individual tart pans, a large muffin pan or an 8x8” square pan.

                            a pastry blender                                                               

 Toss together the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or food processor until the mixture is crumbly and even textured.

Set aside ¾ – 1 cup of the mixture for topping. Add the chopped walnuts and set aside.
Press remaining crust mixture lightly into the bottom of the pan/pans. 

8oz cream cheese
4 oz mascarpone cheese
1 c sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp vanilla (I use Madagascar Bourbon brand)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 egg

Beat cheeses and sugar together to combine. Add remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl. 

Stir in 2 cups chopped rhubarb. Pour rhubarb cream cheese mixture over crust, sprinkle with reserved crust mixture and bake, 30-40 minutes until just set. Watch carefully. Cool to room temperature and chill 2 hours or freeze.

Recipe Notes:
  • Mascarpone cheese resembles cream cheese in texture but has a richer 'cheesier' flavor. If you cannot find mascarpone cheese you can substitute more cream cheese.
  • If the crust is pressed too tightly into the bottom of the pan it becomes very hard upon baking. Press it very lightly, just enough to hold it together.
  • Experiment with flavors and spices in this recipe. Increase, decrease or substitute lemon, spices, etc.
  • Try serving this while still a little frozen
  • Make a little sauce of fresh rhubarb or strawberries for the top – sliced fruit, honey or sugar to taste and a little water – cook until softened and use it as a sauce.
  • Want more creamy goodness? Place less crust mixture in the bottom of the pan (just enough to hold the bottom together) and barely sprinkle on the crumbly topping.
  • This can be baked as bars, individual tarts, etc. adjust the baking time accordingly. A 9” whole springform pan took just over an hour. Large muffin tins baked in about 35-40 minutes