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How to save summer (before dinner, on a rainy day in June)

June 20, 2012

A conversation I had with a coworker a few weeks ago went something like this:

Aimee: “Wow. It’s already June! Whatever happened to May?”

Coworker: “Yeah. You know what June means.”

Aimee: (Quizzical look) “No…?”

Coworker: “September.”

Sadly, I think many of us see the truth to my colleague’s sentiment. Summer approaches us with the promise of warm, relaxing days and long, lazy evenings. Before we know it, though, weeks and weekends are filled and the season wooshes by. If we fail to be mindful of the moments that make up a summer – the feel of the gentle breeze and scratchy grass that accompanies evenings at the ball field; the mingling scents of burgers on the grill, freshly cut lawn, and sunscreen; the sounds of outdoor concerts and laughing families – it’s almost like they never happened. And then, come February, you find yourself painfully aware of the fact that summer has been too long past, while also being too far into the future.

For me, one of the most exciting things about summer is the abundance of produce. Is there a name for summer-only vegetarians? Because I could easily be one of those. Why fill up on meat when it is already difficult enough to choose between aromatic herbs, juicy tomatoes, tart raspberries, sweet zucchini, and crisp cucumbers? For the past few years I’ve told myself that I would make a point of preserving those flavors somehow – be it by canning or drying or freezing, but I’ve yet to follow through on that promise.

This year will be different. This February will be the February in which I find myself longing for the flavors of pungent basil, plucked at the height of it’s freshness, and actually have the satisfaction of incorporating that flavor into that evening’s dinner. This year: I have a chest freezer.

We’re splitting this season’s CSA share with my parents, and the very first box of the season contained garlic scapes. We had a joint “dinner out of the box” with them that night, and the pesto that I made from the scapes – along with toasted almonds, olive oil and parmesan – was out of this world. I knew instantly that I wanted to make more to freeze, so I picked up a generous handful of garlic scapes at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago with the intention of making a large batch.

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More butter than you’re comfortable using

April 23, 2012

We spent the better part of our afternoon today with our neighbors, roaming the woods of southeastern Minnesota and snacking on cheese and crackers while trout fishing at one of our state’s many beautiful parks. The goal was to forage and fish for our dinner. The grim reality is that we realized that, if left to our own devices, we would likely starve. Pictured below is our combined haul for the day.

That’s right. No asparagus. No ramps. No trout.  Only three glorious, highly sought after, elusive, delicious morel mushrooms. Lack of found food aside, the day was far from a total loss. It was a perfect spring day, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with each other.

Secondly, the excitement of finding the first (and second, and third) morel was huge. And the task of cutting them down took not one, not two, but three men.

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What I was eating

March 20, 2012

Earlier this month I was flipping through various cookbooks, planning dinner menus for the week and compiling a grocery list when I paused curiously on a page in Gourmet Today. I briefly skimmed a recipe titled chicken with tomatoes and prunes, and by the time I had finished reading the ingredient list – which included vinegar, cinnamon, and white wine – I knew I had to make it.

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Where everybody knows your name

February 29, 2012

I swear to you that I could write an entire novel about the experiences we’ve had bringing our son to the emergency room. But he’s only eight, and there are bound to be several years of good stories left, so I’m holding off lest I write that book too soon.

There was the time where I took him in because he had a foreign object lodged in his nose. He refused to tell me what it was, but when the doctor yanked it out and held it in front of him a lightbulb went on and he said, “Oh, that? That’s a spider egg!” AND. IT. WAS.

There was the fourth of July when an innocent scrape on his knee decided to rear its ugly head and turn into an infection, mere hours after we had arrived at the cabin for a week long vacation. We got our antibiotics from a vending machine that time… and paid dearly for it (out of network=so much money).

There was the time when a mosquito bite on his forehead turned his beautiful head into a swollen, Frankenstein-esque mess; there was the time when he felt a sudden and powerful urge to practice yo-yo tricks in his bedroom, under his ceiling fan, and ended up shattering the light fixture, sending shards of glass straight into the top of his head; and there was the time when we had a resident who fancied himself a bit of a MacGyver, who told us he was going to use the “hair technique” for closing a wound, and who stuck our son’s head under a tap to clean out the wound because “you’d be surprised to know that tap water is more sterile than sterile water.” (emphasis added.)

As we were waiting in the exam room of the emergency department tonight I was recalling past ER experiences, and I had a nagging feeling that I was forgetting the most recent one. Everything came flooding back to me when the physician entered the room, extended his hand, and said, “Hey, I treated Aiden last time he was here – for the gerbil bite.” Ah, yes – how could I have forgotten the gerbil bite?

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My way.

February 2, 2012

When you’re in your own kitchen, personal preference dominates, and standards are taken with a grain of salt – which is why cooking for yourself can be so pleasurable. The more and more I become used to making foods from scratch – croutons, dressing, pancakes, bread, curry sauce, you name it – the more I find myself identifying precisely how I like something prepared. Croutons? Salty and browned, but still a bit chewy on the inside. Pancakes? With a little extra sugar in the batter, to compensate for the fact that I rarely add syrup. And pesto? Without the pine nuts. This glaring omission really makes the sauce a pistou, but – as stated above – my kitchen, my rules, and I still call it pesto.

It’s not that I have anything against pine nuts, I promise, it’s just that I am rather addicted to the spiciness of the garlic, the freshness of the basil, the richness of the olive oil, and the saltiness of the… er… salt. So in my kitchen, when I’m at the helm, I omit the tear-shaped seeds. Also, in my kitchen, I think it’s borderline insane to pound with a mortar and pestle something that can be so easily whizzed in the food processor, so I do that too.

My plan for tonight was to make the pesto and then toss it with noodles –  with the end goal of devouring a steaming bowl of pasta, but I returned from a (very fun, don’t-do-it-enough, thoroughly enjoyable) happy hour with my sister a bit later than I had planned. My son and husband had already eaten (leftovers), and although I still had the ounce of energy it took to pick the leaves from the basil and smash a couple of cloves of garlic, boiling noodles seemed unecessary, and the lure of the vibrant green sauce too great. In the end, I spread it on some bread, topped with with some shaved parmesan, ate it standing at the counter, and declared it a mid-week feast.

Pesto (sans pine nuts)

I wavered on providing a recipe for this one, as there are so many things that impact the final product – personal preference, the potency of the garlic, the freshness of the basil… Consider the quantities below more of a guideline.

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 15(ish) turns freshly ground pepper (1/4 teaspoon maybe?)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil

Toss the garlic in the bowl of  a food processor and pulse until minced. Add the basil, salt and pepper. Pulse until basil is roughly chopped. While food processor is running, add olive oil in a steady stream. Once you’ve added about 1/4 of a cup, check the consistency. Continue adding olive oil and checking consistency of the sauce until you see liquid in the bowl – but the basil shouldn’t be swimming in oil. Store, refrigerated, for up to a week. To avoid discoloration, film the top of the pesto with olive oil.

Extended Family

January 12, 2012

Not to brag or anything, but we live in a pretty amazing neighborhood. Our home is surrounded by friendly, helpful, warm, kind, amusing, and smart families. Kids run between houses; adults share conversation and beverages; and good company, borrowed cups of sugar, and babysitters are just a door knock away. In the 5 1/2 years that we’ve lived in our house, it’s as if our family has doubled in size due to the fact that so many of our neighbors feel more like relatives. We’ve celebrated and grieved together while sharing our lives with each other. And while I never fancied myself a person who could handle being just dropped in on while in my pajamas on a Saturday afternoon, I’ve gotten over trying to issue any sort of an apology for the state of either myself or my home and am instead simply happy to welcome my neighbors inside and relish the opportunity to catch up. This weekend we were fortunate to spend time with many of our neighbors, including this little guy (just look at those eyes!). Read more…

Taking Stock

January 4, 2012

I hope you don’t mind if I do the cliche thing and reflect a bit on the last year, as well as what lies ahead.

2011 was, quite possibly, the year of settling into the rhythm of day-to-day life for my husband, my son and myself. None of us graduated from school. We didn’t buy a house or a car. There was no wedding to plan, and no honeymoon to look forward to. No new babies were welcomed into our family, and we were fortunate to not have to say goodbye to close friends or family members. I did take a new job (heaven forbid we go 52 weeks without some kind of change), but for all intents and purposes, 2011 was arguably the most uneventful, routine year we’ve had yet.

And it was wonderful. Sing praise for routine!

Sing praise for having the time to escape for vacations – be them week-long or weekend-short. Sing praise for dinners at home, evenings with friends, and weekly date  nights. Sing praise for baseball games, band practice, and book club. Sing praise for time with family and being blessed to witness the growth and love of the families that surround us.

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