haricots nicoise with pasta 1

My friend Kate (hi Kate!) lent me a great book while I was pregnant, called Momma Zen.  As you might suspect, it’s kind of about the Zen lessons embedded within motherhood.  It’s the sort of thing that can be completely cheesy and seem obvious, but that’s only when you approach it intellectually.  When it finally hits you at the visceral, or even spiritual, level, then you suddenly realize how very profound a collection of mundane observations can be.

I just dug it out of one of the boxes of books we haven’t yet unpacked – there’s a good pile of those; they’re hiding in our bedroom and in a closet in our little office room so the outside world doesn’t know that we kind of burned out with the unpacking midstream – to give back to her so she can reread it.  As I took it out, I started flipping back through it.  I read it while I was pregnant, not actually quite a momma yet, and so many of the messages weren’t able to reach me viscerally.  Now they did, each one that I glanced at as I flipped through an assortment of pages.

One really jumped out, one that I needed right at that moment.  The author was writing about being at a spiritual meditation retreat.  There, she was working her butt off at the various duties assigned to her, ringing the prayer bell, chanting, meditating, and so on, but towards the end of the retreat one of the masters came to her and told her, “you have one of the worst work ethics I’ve ever seen.”  She was completely taken aback, knowing that she’s actually a very hard worker and certain that she’d been putting a huge effort into the work of the retreat.  But, the master continues, “you have one of the worst work ethics I’ve ever seen – you turn everything into work.”

haricot nicoise with pasta 2

Ah.

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rhubarb cobbler 1

So, I’m actually your old aunt or uncle.  You know, the one who repeats herself several times in a row without realizing it, and who tells the same three stories every time you see her.  Yup, that’s me.  And that is why I’m going to say what I’m pretty sure I say every time rhubarb enters the conversation.  Two things I always say, actually.  First, I love rhubarb.  So much. I LOVE IT!  Second, growing up in Minnesota gives you the impression that every house comes with a rhubarb plant (or several) growing in the yard.  It’s like it’s included in any homebuyer’s agreement worth signing, like a house inspection could be derailed if there is no rhubarb plant in the backyard. It grows like a weed around here.  And having always had rhubarb, the first spring outside of Minnesota I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do when June rolled around and I wanted to bake a rhubarb cake, but there was no rhubarb outside my backdoor.  And it was soooo annoying to have to buy rhubarb at the grocery store.

But, I’m back in Minnesota!  And there’s a veritable rhubarb farm growing along the edge of our garage, and I’m finally one of those people of whom I’ve always been secretly (or not so secretly) jealous!  One of those people who actually has more rhubarb than they quite know what to do with.  Well, almost more.  I think, when it comes down to it, I’ll manage.

rhubarb cobbler 2

Fun fact about rhubarb that I just learned last year: if you pull up any rhubarb flowers as soon as they come up, you can keep your rhubarb producing all summer long.  Which means that all sorts of ‘and rhubarb’ combinations (raspberry and rhubarb (my favorite), blueberries and rhubarb, peaches and rhubarb, apple and rhubarb…) are more seasonal than I used to think they were when I thought of rhubarb as purely an early summer plant.

In spite of all of these grand combinations, there’s something to be said for straight up rhubarb in baked goods.  Fabulously tart rhubarb without the cloak of other fruits or berries to muddy up its character (though it still needs a good cloak of sugar if you don’t want your mouth to pucker up as tight as a miserly fist). I’ve always been a big fan of plain rhubarb pie – no strawberries. I also adore buttery cake with pieces of rhubarb strewn throughout.  Rhubarb crisp is, of course, a classic.  But never once before had it occurred to me to make rhubarb cobbler.

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salmon couscous 1

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.”

There’s something about adding plenty of fresh herbs to a dish that makes it seem a) summery and b) fancy.  Whether you go barefoot and sundress-clad out into the backyard and grab herbs by the handful or you buy them at the supermarket while you’re out running errands, either way they still give you that sense that you are eating your meal out in a garden, or maybe in the middle of a farm field, and the sun is at that perfect golden angle, and the table is decorated with wildflowers, and it’s all just so.  And all it took was some herbs!  No schlep to the farm field, where there would most likely be tons of flies and mosquitos swarming and a faint (or not so faint) smell of barnyard, ahem, activity in the air anyway, because that’s what it’s actually like on farms.  It’s great, but the sun isn’t always at the perfect golden angle.

Anyway, that is not really the point, other than to say that I do love having herbs growing in the backyard as prolifically as weeds.  Especially when the chive plants flower because you can throw the flowers in to whatever you’ve just cooked, and suddenly it will make it look like you’re very pulled together and classy, when really all you did was snip some chives.

chives with blossoms

salmon and herbs for couscous

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carrot soda bread 1

This is another recipe that I have already shared in my breakfast column, but it is so ridiculously fantastic, I feel like I need to share it in every corner of the internets that I have any sort of vague jurisdiction over.  It must be sounded from the rooftops like a yawp.  Make this soda bread, you won’t regret it!!!!!

Soda bread, to me, is a promise.  It’s the promise of warm, crusty, home baked bread ready in no time flat.  When you decide to smudge together a soup or salad for dinner from the remainders in your fridge and you need a hunk of bread to round it out, or when friends drop by unexpectedly for midmorning coffee and you would like to offer a snack, soda bread can be tossed together and in the oven before your soup is warm, before your friends have taken off their shoes, and it will be practically done baking by the time you’ve canvassed the subject of the weather.

carrot soda bread 2

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quinoa white beans 1

Well, we are installed in a new house (sigh of relief).  Half of our life is still in boxes (plain old sigh), but a lot of it is actually unpacked and organized, including the kitchen (yay!!!!!).  And GUESS WHAT!!!  My new kitchen has BRIGHT red countertops and – even more importantly – a view of Lake Superior.  Dreamy.

For lack of a better way of describing it, the house feels like a house for grown-ups.  It’s just nice.  Low-key, unostentatious, and so nice.  It has good bones, or as the realtor we worked with kept saying, “it has good juju.”  Only two families have lived here before us in the past 50 years.  It’s a place where people settle down and live, and you can feel that when you’re in it, somehow. Ever since I first left home, I have always basically longed for a place that felt homey in this way, in the way that exudes settling and putting down roots.

But, now that I’m here, it is a) wonderful, but b) slightly freaking me out because suddenly I’m like, “this means I’m SO OLD!  And I don’t know what I’m doing!!!!”  Here we are with a baby, in this house, and I keep looking around for the real grown-ups to show up and intervene.  (And sometimes they do! In the form of my parents or neighbors who stop in and have excellent advice and observations on making and maintaining a home.  I wonder if they themselves still sometimes wish a real grown-up would show up and show them how you’re supposed to do things.  Or is it something you do eventually grow out of?  Like when you’re 98?)

qunio white beans 2

Speaking of growing up, Espen has in the last week and a half really started crawling.  It’s not graceful, by any means, but there are times when he manages to move at warp speed.  I’ve long had an (unfortunate) tendency to view the world as a not very safe place, but I never knew before just how unsafe it was.  It turns out that everything, even in your own home, is just waiting to take out your eye, scrape up your forehead and knees, fall on top of you, and wind up – misguidedly – in your mouth.  If you are a 9 month old boy, at least. :)

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Hi there!  I’m here!  I’m alive (barely)! And you guys, I’M A DOCTOR!!!!!!!  (Happy dance, happy dance, woo woo woo!!!!)  I had honestly started to feel like the day would never come, but I’m done!  I successfully defended my dissertation a month ago (and also made a little jaunt down to NYC and got to have lunch with the ladies of Food52, which pretty much made my life), then had to go through all the hoopla of getting it properly submitted, and then graduation was this last weekend.  Emily Vikre, PhD – we are in crazy-town, people!!!!!

diploma

I was super bummed out, but I had to miss going to commencement because ticket prices were terribly expensive, and traveling with a baby is not a walk in the park, and we had all sorts of other important stuff that had to be taken care of on all of the days abutting commencement, so we just couldn’t go.  There was simply no way to make it work.  But, I was really sad and worried that I was going to be left hanging without any sense of closure.  Happily, my family and friends swooped in to save the day with a funny mini-commencement ceremony (they even found a gown for me) and champagne toast, which actually made a big difference in making the whole thing feel real.  The more champagne there is associated with something, the more real it becomes.  Fact.

Minn Fizz(unrelated bonus cocktail recipe, ta-da!)

Completing a PhD is kind of like running a marathon through knee-deep mud in bad weather with people at various turn-offs telling you that you should go back and re-slog through the part you just did because you ran it wrong, which then makes you fundamentally question all your abilities on a very deep and existential level.  But, you just keep going – if you’re fool-hardy enough, haha.  I’m definitely fool-hardy.  And a glutton for punishment.  Everybody I know keeps telling me that.   And with regards to my dissertation, I took on a project that was out of the box, and way more giant than was really reasonable (some of my committee members have told me that they thought I was slightly off my rocker to be willing to take on such a big, complex project).  But, when I look back at it all, and even while the process was ongoing, I can honestly say that, even though most of the time I didn’t really believe in myself, I deeply believed in what I was doing.  And I did it.  And, you guys, I’m really, really proud of myself.  Am I allowed to say that in public about myself?

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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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