almond pear muffins 2

I had in mind to write some sort of silly April Fool’s joke post today.  But, then I woke up and it was snowing and blowing and full-on blizzard-ing outside, and this was so very unfunny to me that I no longer felt like trying to write a funny post.  It also destroyed my resolve not to talk about the weather because, oh you guys, the weather.

Therefore, I’m focusing on muffins instead.  After all, one can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner.

almond pear muffins 1

This past weekend (when it was, now that we’re talking about the weather anyway, almost 40 and sunny – it was wonderful) I decided that I absolutely had to make blueberry muffins to make use of some of the vast quantity of blueberries we had picked back in August on a visit to Bayfield.  They’d been sitting in the freezer since then, and while a great many had wandered their way into oatmeal, it seemed a shame not to make blueberry muffins with at least some of them.  I whipped up a batch using my favorite muffin recipe (the best muffin recipe, if I do say so myself), brewed up some coffee, and invited a few friends over to help us eat them.

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kale sausage soup-ish 1

I didn’t actually think I’d be sharing this soup.  It’s rather homely, as you can see.  Not a show-stopper by any means.  It’s actually quite a mishmash little bowl of things.  A hodgepodge, a kitchen sink, inspired by at least a half-dozen other recipes.  I expected it to be satisfying, soul-satisfying even, in the porridge-y comfort food way we’re all needing as we stare out at the utter lack of spring around here.  But, I didn’t expect it to be something I’d be compelled to share.  Yet, here I am, happily wrong, because people, this soup is yummy!  Better than expected.  More delicious, even, than I’d hoped.

This soup – if you can even call it that given its silky, thick, nicely starchy heft (it does use risotto rice, after all) – has its roots in a recipe that has been called genius (it has also been called soup-ish, which I think is an accurate descriptor), a recipe for smothered cabbage and rice from the inimitable Marcella Hazan.  I defy you to come up with something from Marcella that isn’t genius, really.  The cabbage version of this soup(ish) has also been extolled by Luisa, and Molly, both women of good taste.

Then I saw Tara reference Marcella’s soup as she talked about her own soup(ish) of kale, risotto, and quinoa.  And that got me to thinking about kale.  It’s possible we all think too much about kale these days, but given that our thoughts could be in far less wholesome places, and because kale is tasty no matter how trendy, or twee, or on its way out and no longer trendy it may be, I bought two bunches of it.

kale sausage soup-ish in the pot

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pork banh mi bowl 1

It’s a questionable decision for me to even be here right now.  I’m supposed to turn my full dissertation in to my committee in two (two!!!!) days, which means I am quite literally a crazy person and there’s no telling what will come out of my mouth other than that it is likely to either be an overreaction to something trivial, or something about stepwise regression, or about how I hate all my research and it doesn’t have any health implications at all, ahhh! (and then I may burst into tears).

These last two weeks have been spent swimming in a sea of stress and track changes.  My diet has consisted, to an embarrassingly large extent, of wine and cake.

Now all the writing and editing is pretty much finished and I’ve moved into formatting land, which is basically as stressful as all the rest of it because the school states formatting requirements in terms like this: “Tufts University requires that the dissertation have a left margin of 1.5 inches; all other margins must be one inch… Students should also note that photocopying results in slight enlargement of the copied text. This enlargement must be accounted for to allow the final version of the dissertation to meet margin requirements. A dissertation can be rejected by the University for failure to meet the margin requirements.”

Seriously?  I thought I was trying to get a PhD in food policy, not in using MS Word and its various margin, and page numbering, and cross-referencing functions.  Mostly I’m all up in arms about it because I’m truly terrible at formatting.

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moqueca 1

Are you familiar with moqueca?  I only tried it for the first time last week, and it was amazing, and now I feel like I have to make up for lost time by making it at least twice a week for the next 5 months or so.  I also feel like all the Brazilians I know owe me an apology for never calling this delightfully rich and simple seafood soup to my attention.

I know a relatively good number of Brazilians because I worked with some Brazilian community organizations in my work in Boston.  I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or just the individuals I knew, but they were, to a person, truly wonderful.  It’s hard to imagine more enthusiasm and ebullience packed into a single person than there was in my various friends from Brazil.  They seeped enthusiasm from their pores.  They were all noisy, chatty, engaging, and constantly saying that things were “beautiful.”  I’m sure not everyone from Brazil talks a mile a minute, but everyone I met did!

I love them.  But they never told me about moqueca, and I plan on holding it against them.  They would go on and on about Pão de Queijo – a puffy cheese bread that tastes like fluffy bites of Kraft macaroni and cheese (it’s kind of amazing) – and these little dulce de leche truffle thingies called brigadeiros, both of which are good and all, but they aren’t super speedy, super easy, healthy and ridiculously flavorful weeknight meals.  Moqueca is.

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stills 1 copy

I keep pinching myself and/or waking up in the night with minor panic attacks about the craziness of what we’re doing.  But, it’s really real, and it’s really going well so far.  Joel and I have started a real life, operational micro-distillery!  And as of this week, for the first time, our spirits are available for sale in Minnesota.  Ahhhhh!  Is that not kind of the coolest thing ever?  I don’t usually feel very cool, but this makes me feel extremely cool.  As does wearing my Vikre Distillery sweatshirt and being all like, “yeah, I’m one of the Vikre’s.”

The spirits we have available now are a line of three gins – inspired by Minnesota’s Northwoods – called Boreal Gins.  There’s Boreal Juniper, a traditional dry gin that’s also floral and citrusy with rhubarb we grew in our backyard; Boreal Spruce is super piney and herbal with foraged spruce buds, rosemary, and lavender – it seems to be a favorite with Hendricks lovers; and Boreal Cedar is our most nontraditional gin, infused with black currants, grapefruit peel, and toasted cedar wood in addition to traditional gin botanicals.  I came up with the blends myself, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that people like them!

boreal gins staggered barnboard blog

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turmeric chicken

In an effort to share more of our very most every day meals, the ones I throw together with whatever’s left in the fridge, or the staples I can make with my eyes half closed at the end of a long day, I’ve started posting occasional short, simple posts just about these meals.  I call it vær så god, Norwegian for “bon appetit.”

When I really can’t think of what to make for dinner, I fall back on one of two things: salmon or chicken thighs.  Both are flavorful, pretty quick to cook, and lend themselves to infinite variations in how you spice them, whether it be with a marinade (except that takes planning ahead, bah), a spice-herb rub, or a sauce.  I mostly roast my chicken thighs, forgetting the wonderful succulence that is braised chicken.  You don’t get crispy skin when you braise your chicken, that’s the major drawback.  But, the meat comes out so juicy in a good braise, it’s fairly easy to forgive the skin for not crisping up.

I recently got Louisa Shafia’s new book, The New Persian Kitchen.  It’s full of accessible but interesting recipes, and the very first one I tried was this recipe for turmeric chicken.  It’s almost laughably easy – just sprinkle some turmeric and salt on your chicken, brown it, add garlic and water, squeeze on a lime – but the intensity of the flavors and that juicy, juicy braised chicken belie how little effort you had to put into them.  It’s perfect accompanied by some rice and any simple steamed or sauteed vegetables you’ve a hankering for.  This is going to be one of my new go-to’s for evenings when I’m so tired and lazy I can barely lift a spatula but I’m still craving good food.  (Which, when it comes down to it, is quite a lot of my evenings!)  Go forth and braise, my friends!  (I was going to say “braise the roof,” but I restrained myself.  I hope you are as proud of me as I am…)

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miso butter salmon

In an effort to share more of our very most every day meals, the ones I throw together with whatever’s left in the fridge, or the staples I can make with my eyes half closed at the end of a long day, I’ve started posting occasional short, simple posts just about these meals.  I call it vær så god, Norwegian for “bon appetit.”

Miso-butter!!!!!  Also known as my new favorite thing to smear, brush, and drizzle on everything.  Not to mention dip things into.

Until last week, I had never actually bought my own canister of miso before.  I’d used miso, certainly, but only at other people’s houses.  I’d never invested in my own before because of exactly that.  It feels like a real investment (to me at least! I may be a little dramatic) to get a whole big ol’ tub of it.  And I’ve never seen it available any way other than by the tub.  But, last week I wanted to make this soup.  I wanted to make it so much, I decided that miso was worth the investment.  And now I have enough miso to use anywhere I could possibly want that funky, cheesy, umami-bomb(i) deliciousness.  Where I want it is everywhere.  With butter.

I happened to read the little side column in the most recent issue of Bon Appetit that talked about using miso-butter to baste while grilling and I thought, “hallelujah, my dinner has been saved!”  And I proceeded to stir some miso into melted butter and brush it on a salmon fillet and eat it with broccoli and sweet potatoes (which are also exceptionally good with miso butter – maybe even better than the salmon was).  And lo, it was tasty.

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Espen and Joel Xmas

My dear friends, you’re so patient with me!  Or maybe really I’m the only one who expects myself to be totally pulled together and productive at this point with a 4 month old.  I know I’m my own worst critic, and yet I still totally fall for the critical voice in my mind because it disguises itself so well, disguises itself as others’ voices, or worse yet, the voice of some sort of absolute truth and authority.

Lately it’s been on my case for the fact that I’m not somehow doing “better” (whatever that actually means in this context) at balancing having a 4-month old and work and keeping up the house and remembering to brush my hair and buy groceries…  It’s all like “geez, Emily.  You’ve been doing this for four months now!  Shouldn’t it feel easy breezy at this point to get your writing done, return all those emails, play with the baby, and then go run errands with the baby in tow? Remember, you’ve had four months to practice.  Why aren’t you doing better?”  But, I’m not doing better.  I’m doing how I’m doing.  And to be honest, I’m afraid I feel rather like a half-crazed bag lady whenever I try to get out of the house because I’m always carrying four or five bags, plus the baby – bundled in 800 layers because it’s been minus 20 – and the dog.  Oh well, my arms are getting totally toned!

What’s funny is, in the midst of my usual self criticisms, I’m suddenly understanding on a whole different level all of our perfection within our imperfectness.  It’s one of the most amazing things about having a baby.  Espen is just 100% himself.  He doesn’t sleep well, he spits up a lot still, he constantly has spit dribbling down his chin from proudly blowing spit bubbles, he’s obsessed with grabbing his toes, I can barely get him to eat when he’s hungry any more because he just wants to look up at me and tell me about all he’s thinking in “ohhhs” and “bwehhs,” his laugh does sound like it could turn into fairies, he sometimes gets really grumpy and scream-y because he’s sensitive to stimulation.  He is who he is, and I look at him and I think he is utterly, utterly perfect.  I find myself wondering how such a perfect creature can even exist in this crazy world.  And I want him to know that I think he’s perfect.

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cardamom sticky buns 1

I don’t think I’m even going to say anything more because what more do you need to know?  Cardamom. Lemon. Sticky. Buns.

They’re just what you’re imagining.  Buttery, soft and fragrant cardamom bread dough swirled with a bright, tangy, sticky lemon filling.  Add a cup of strong coffee (maybe a mimosa).  Perfection.

cardamom sticky buns 2

It may be too late to make these for Christmas morning breakfast, but you could still bake them up for a New Year’s Day brunch.  And then Easter.  And then Mother’s Day.  And then because it’s the weekend.  Keep the recipe in your back pocket because you’ll want to break them out often.

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quick cioppino 1

My childhood bedroom had windows facing out to the street where we lived.  Under one of the windows was a radiator.  Whenever it would snow at night, I would climb out of my bed and perch atop the radiator watching the flakes swirl under the beam of the streetlight, watching the quiet astonishment of snow until my bum couldn’t handle the hard metal perch I had chosen for it, and then I would slip back into bed to fall asleep.

I realized yesterday that I hadn’t stopped to appreciate the snow this year.  We’ve had over 30 gorgeous inches of it.  But, I’ve barely paused a moment to bask in its purity, to soak in the vastness of the light that bounces off of it, to flop and sink into the banks of it trying to make a snow angel, to yell with glee as I ski down a hill under the branches of the evergreens that are iced with it.  Instead, I’ve looked out at it as it accumulates and thought, “oh for heaven’s sakes, now how am I going to haul the baby and the dog anywhere? How are we going to have time to shovel again?”  I’ve looked at it as a nuisance.

backyard knee-deep More