Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I haven't declared a summer soundtrack for a few years. But now I've got one for 2009. Everybody needs a favorite album to listen to with the windows down, cruising around in the heat of the summer sun. And the memories of each summer are inextricably linked to a group of songs, so that when you hear them again, the summer's warmth and meaningful events come wafting back to you.

This is my album for 2009: Asa (pronounced "ah-sha") by the artist of the same name. She's got just the right combination of jazz, soul, folk, and world flavor to get you dancing, yet there's a rich depth to her voice; an effortless musical gift that will keep delivering new subtleties with every repeat hearing.

Her radio hit, "Jailer," is a fun, reggae-influenced, sassy tune that gets better and better the louder you play it. (I think I've shared it with most of East Liberty and Highland Park now. Heh heh.)

The album doesn't gloss over life's inequities or pain -- if you know me, you're probably painfully aware that I seem to gravitate toward angsty, heartbroken artists -- but Asa has an optimism that shines through the blues. Just the fresh album I needed for 2009 summer adventures. Hope you enjoy it, too.

Visualize whirled peas

My baby was born to eat. We all were, really. It's a necessary part of life, a key to survival. With almost every gulp of milk or spoonful of vegetable puree, she makes small, grateful "mmm" sounds, as if to say "Thanks. This is just what I needed, and it's good stuff."

Now that she's sampling vegetables and fruits herself, without me as the processing middleman, she opens her mouth wide, showing her brand-new serrated teeth and eagerly awaiting the spoon delivery of her fruit and veggie mash. She loves each bite -- but somehow, she knows when to stop. She knows when enough is enough, and she trusts that when she gets hungry again, her daddy or I will be there to fill her up again. She has no need to stock up -- no matter how sweet those pears are, or how creamy the carrots -- she trusts that we will provide, and stops when she is full.

How do we lose this sense of "enough," this trust of the hands that feed us?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Happy baby

Need some more laughter in your life? We've got plenty in our house. This was taken two weeks ago, on Mr. Incredible's birthday. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A taste of Scandinavia

This is what I had for lunch. This is what I'm still savoring, two hours later: Spice-encrusted salmon with Aquavit sour cream and new potato and green bean salad with capers and herbs.

The salmon, bought skin-on and frozen from Trader Joe's, was surprisingly fresh, tender, and flaky, rubbed all over with dill seeds, fennel seeds, cumin, and coriander. A splash of lemon juice before baking and a ridiculously generous dollop of sour cream seasoned with fiery Aquavit and caraway seeds cooled and complemented the salty, anise-y fish. And on the side, we enjoyed the buttery texture of new potatoes, fresh from the farmer's market, seasoned with mint, basil, and parsley, then tossed with green beans, olive oil, lemon juice and tangy lemon zest. For an umami-pleasing twist, this summer salad was peppered with briny capers.

Thanks to Andreas Viestad for the recipe, and to my husband for enjoying it with me. It was a fresh taste of Scandinavia in our own backyard.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Learning to love goat cheese

I used to think I hated goat cheese. It wasn't the taste, really; I mean, I was pretty confident that if I held my nose while I ate it, I would enjoy it very much. Somehow, that pungent, "goaty" smell just turned me off, and I steered clear of all goat cheese recipes -- which always looked so delicious -- for years.

And I'm here to tell you that I not only put up with goat cheese, I love it. Don't ask me what changed; I guess I just decided to like it, and now I can't get enough of this creamy stuff.

This recipe was what really did it for me:
Goat cheese salad with beets and walnuts

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 5 small roasted beets,* peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
  • 6 ounces soft goat cheese, room temperature
  • Lettuce, spring greens, beet greens, baby spinach -- whatever tender greens you have on hand


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together shallot, vinegar, orange juice, and oil; season with salt and pepper. Place beets in a small bowl. Pour 1/3 of the dressing over beets; toss to coat.
  2. Place walnuts in a shallow dish. With your hands, form goat cheese into 12 equal balls. Roll balls in walnuts, turning to coat completely, then flatten into discs.
  3. Place greens in a large bowl. Drizzle with remaining dressing, and toss to combine. Divide among plates, and top each serving with some of the sliced beets and 3 goat-cheese discs.
*TO ROAST BEETS: Wrap washed beets, with the skins still intact, in 2-3 packets of aluminum foil, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size, until beets are slightly soft to the touch. Cool in packets, then rub off skins.

Adapted from Great Food Fast

If you're like most people, you probably don't eat beets too often, either, so this recipe might actually get you hooked not only on goat cheese, but on this sweet, tender root vegetable as well.

Enjoy this late-spring meal with loved ones outside, with the breeze blowing through the backyard, light condensation forming on your iced tea glasses, and the sweet and tangy tastes of beets and goat cheese mingling in your mouth.

I highly recommend it.

Oh, and so does Mr. Incredible; actually, he's the expert in our house at preparing this salad (which is probably why the walnut-studded cheese medallions are so, well, perfect).

We have this treasure in five-gallon buckets of dirt

I am an aspiring farmer. It's more of a theoretical thing, really; I have little experience but a lot of enthusiasm and I like to read about it a lot. Which, you might say, is worth something, but I really think it's about as useful as learning how to swim via an online correspondence course in which you never even enter the water.* The key to growing things is really experience, and good growers have years of it under their belts.

Nevertheless, I am determined to get good at this -- so determined that I've taken to planting my vegetables in five-gallon buckets and giant storage bins in my miniscule concrete backyard.

This year, I'm trying my hand at:
  • Bell peppers
  • Heirloom tomatoes: "Japanese Black Trifele," Czech Bush," "Stupice," and "Snow White," and "Be My Baby"
  • Basil
  • Curly parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Peas (growing along the fence -- we'll see if they survive the slug attacks)
The five-gallon buckets aren't pretty, but I'm proud of my urban farming attempts, and I must admit it makes planting and weeding pretty simple. Check back later for updates on the Avondale Farm.

*Big shout-out to all you Big Bang Theory fans who actually got this reference.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Waiting for the storm

The wind is picking up. Doppler radar images reveal bright green splotches moving rapidly eastward from Ohio. The honeysuckle breeze that smelled so sweet an hour ago is now mingled with dust and the maple leaves show their underbellies in the frenetic gusts.

A storm is brewing.

What is it about storms that's so appealing; so satisfactory? Natural as they are, they are violent nonetheless and decidedly inhospitable. Yet who can deny the sense of wonder and excitement we experience at the sight of the gathering clouds?

I suppose a storm is like a good, heated argument with a lover; everything that's been lurking in the shadows of our private hearts and minds is brought out in the open to clash and collide. And when the winds die down, the thunder silent, and the lightning just a spark on the horizon, there is peace.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Good for the soul

Call me naïve. No, really -- go ahead and call me naïve.

But I think our society's unique maladies and general loneliness are closely linked to our departure from the back-breaking acts of growing and making food, raising children, and making the things we need with our own hands. Yes, of course I realize that the industrial revolution has made life a lot more livable for everybody, especially the poor. And this is the point at which you might want to call me naïve, reminding me that if I had to make my own bread and my own cheese, and if I had to grow all my own food and live at the mercy of droughts and floods, I would feel very differently about such things.

I don't doubt it, and I probably am being naïve. It's awfully cheeky of me as an affluent Westerner to idealize subsistence farming -- of course "getting back to the land" sounds wonderful when you have all the options in the world.

Nevertheless, I believe that gardening, baking bread, attending to children, washing diapers, making cheese, building furniture -- the things we used to do with our hands but now delegate to other people and companies and machines -- I believe that these activities feed us in ways our society never realized. And now that all our stock is in efficiency, ease, and quantity, it's nearly impossible for us to return to a lifestyle that asks so much of us, body and soul.

We're lazy now. We've separated ourselves so much from the back-breaking toil that our great-great grandparents knew. And really, you can't blame them for trying to make life easier, can you? It was hard. But there are a few things that they didn't count on. Like that the hard work of making a life was good for the soul. There are lots of studies out there these days about how therapeutic these activities can be, and more and more people are "discovering" the joy of getting their hands dirty.

I'm one of them, I guess. And it may be naïve -- or even arrogant -- of me, but I think that hard work does a body (and a soul) good.