Reconnection and Colorado Sunshine

For a few weeks, our class has officially traded the heat of gas burners and convection ovens for the warmth of a Colorado sunshine. I’ve also inadvertently traded a working internet for a non-working one, but that little challenge has finally been resolved. Grateful to be reconnected.

As much as I love the kitchen, I’ve found my own little heaven weeding row upon row of three-inch fledgling cucumber plants. There’s something innately satisfying with removing obstacles and encouraging life. It sounds melodramatic. But I’m finding it incredibly fun.

We’ve spent time at two local farms which have completely different approaches to agricultural production both within ethical and sustainable parameters. It’s fascinating. Mornings can be early and days could seem endless, but how often can I say “we planted 100 thousand lettuce seedlings today?” We did. And in about three weeks they’ll look like this.

I’ll continue to get my hands dirty for the next few weeks on a larger scale, and they’ll surely stay somewhat soiled playing in my patio garden for the rest of the season.

And amid the recipes and farmers’ market photos I may just drag you back onto the farm and into the sunshine another time or two…

Carrot Pizza

Formal class time in the kitchen is quickly approaching its end (yes, you are hearing a few sniffles), and we’ll be heading out to local farms soon. No sadness on that end: I’m ready to get my hands dirty and learn tricks from several ethically managed farms in the area.

But our past few days in the kitchen have been creative ones in which we’ve had a little room to play with local ingredients that happen to be available. Pizza day last week was one of the most fun, and a classmate of mine concocted an absolutely delicious vegetarian Carrot Pizza. I still can’t get it out of my head, so I figured it was time to share it with you.

He began by sweating chopped carrots and onions in a little oil or butter, simmered them in vegetable stock (or water) until tender, strained, and puréed them in a food processor yielding a silky smooth and sweet carrot ‘sauce’ base for his pizza. He finished it simply with julienne of various veggies, fresh basil and a little cheese. It was brilliant. I’m still craving it.

I would love to know your favorite and/or most creative pizza flavor combinations! I’d also love a really fantastic crust recipe if any of you have one…

So while you’re still thinking about pizza, here are a few pics of more traditional pies that made the Pizza Day cut…

Pear, bleu cheese, pecan and balsamic. The same version, sans the bleu cheese, is above for the non-bleu-cheesers of the group.

Traditional tomato sauce we’d made during our days exploring canning techniques, topped with mushrooms and prosciutto.

Pesto of mixed salad greens with just a little basil- still quite delicious- with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella we made earlier that day.

Anchovy, onion, basil and sun dried tomatoes.

All the meats, with a few shrooms. I’m thinking this one was made in retaliation to the carrot pizza above which avoided animals altogether.

Caramelized onions, prosciutto and fresh basil finished with an egg.

Finals and a Nutella Pound Cake

The past few days have been consumed in the fun of both written finals and practical finals in the kitchen. Ok, so maybe taking a written final isn’t ‘fun’ exactly… but it sure wasn’t the torture of a quiz on pharmacokinetics or medical biochemistry.

And a practical final in the kitchen? Three hours and a mystery basket- yes, I was literally given an actual basket, straw woven with a cloth napkin lining… full of obligatory ingredients… I was almost giddy! Definitely an intense few hours- unfortunately without time for photos- but in the end I was pleased with the final platings. Huge sigh of relief.

It would be lovely to tell you that I made this incredible pound cake as a celebratory dessert. But in actuality, it was a beautiful distraction as I was in the midst of study. This pound cake recipe had been posted in the last week or so by Sammie in her blog Sweet Samsations. And the moment she told me the dark swirl of marbling was Nutella, I was smitten. Copy and paste. And buy Nutella.

If you’ve met Nutella, then I don’t need to write another word. If you haven’t, it is the most glorious concoction of hazelnut and cocoa you’ll ever taste. Then why did I have to go buy Nutella for this cake? For nothing short of complete lack of restraint, I am no longer allowed to keep Nutella in my living space. Self imposed rule, of course, but strict nonetheless. Consider yourself warned.

And as for pound cakes… I think they get the short end of the dessert stick. With elaborately decorated cupcakes, trendy cake-pops and multi-layered confections, the pound cakes our grandmothers baked may seem less than glamorous. But there is something so comforting and nostalgic about a well-made pound cake. Moist, buttery and rich. And classic with a glass of milk or cup of coffee.

I’m fairly certain it’s hard to mess up a pound cake. Especially one containing Nutella. And fortunate for us, Sammie has already done all the work to tweak this recipe to marbled cocoa hazelnut perfection. Find her recipe here: Nutella Marble Poundcake. Make one in a bundt pan as I did or an angel food pan as she did, or even a classic loaf. Eat a slice (or two or three) and share the rest. You and someone else will both be glad you did~

Food and My Mother

It’s difficult to even type ‘mother’ into the title as my mother became ‘Maman’ to me at some point during high school French, when I suppose I simply liked the sound of it. Even still, my two sisters and I each call our mother something different. And she rolls with all of her names without missing a beat.

My Maman. She loves food. And flowers and plants. And family… though not necessarily in that order. She cooked every meal every day as I grew up, as well as glorious chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls and egg breads. I didn’t realize the uniqueness of that phenomenon until I was at least in high school.

And she always had a vegetable garden. Wherever we lived, she managed to turn something- from small plots of Florida’s sandy soil to an absolutely enormous pasture in Alabama- into literally an entire year’s worth of squash, tomatoes, greens, countless varieties of peas and beans… and okra. I still don’t understand how even three boiled okra pods can ‘slime’ an entire family’s worth of peas. But it’s true. She froze or canned extras of everything and we lived on it for the rest of the year.

My Maman, I believe, always wanted to live on a farm. We had a Jersey cow- Molly- that she milked for a few years. Molly had two calves that somehow found their way into our freezer in many small white packages. That trauma will be saved for another day. But my Maman wanted chickens too- and I distinctly remember my middle school self-conscious mind being horrified by the thought of living in a yard full of clucking feathered ‘friends.’

It’s truly amazing how some pieces of life come full circle. I learned from my Maman in the kitchen to some extent, but mostly by accident. I remember trying to cook a meal for a college crush and having absolutely no idea where to begin. Actually having a kitchen would have been a fine start, but even then, I truly had an embarrassingly meager knowledge base.

And I cannot even pretend that I learned a thing from the hours upon hours she spent outside in our yard. She frequently offered to share her little dirt-ridden wonderland with me (and all her tricks of the trade), but she never forced… and I never obliged. Her flower and vegetable gardens are not at all unlike ones featured on a Southern Living magazine cover, but I was focused on an entirely different world and different dream.

Years pass, and my Maman still has a lovely- albeit slightly smaller- vegetable garden. Her yard is pleasant hybrid of fruit trees and roses and flowering window boxes. And chickens. She is the proud Maman to six hens that lay eggs enough to share. And she cooks for my father… three meals a day. The cookie tin is never empty, and everyone looks forward to her rolls during the holidays.

Years have passed for me as well, and I’ve found myself desiring exactly what I always resisted, pursuing a different dream. It’s beautiful thing when we allow life to create change. Now I cannot learn enough about food. And I want nothing more than to get my hands dirty in any local farm that will teach me everything they know. Breads and treats frequently make their way into my neighbors’ mailboxes or doorsteps; and I have a patio full of flowers, herbs and vegetables.

My Maman has graciously supported all of my career choices, but I have to think her smile is a bit larger these days. And I don’t have my own chickens yet, but I think I am going to mix up a quick batch of cookies…

Happy day to the Mamans of the world, present and future. And a special ‘thank you’ to my own~

How to make a perfect cookie

Maman’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Charming Market Finds

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about how mesmerizing a Farmers’ Market can be… and here I am again because I just can’t resist the lure of colorful spring radishes, greens and root veg- all lovely in their own right. But they also carry with them the excitement of so many treasures still to come!

My favorite photo op booths from Boulder’s market this week included Red Wagon Organic Farm with radishes looking just like a spring version of a Valentine’s Day bouquet… organic veggie style. At the risk of offending my first love of chocolate, I must say that an assortment of these beautiful little guys might actually win my heart.

If you’re Colorado local, check out possible CSA shares, volunteer opportunities, and a fall pumpkin patch at Red Wagon Farm in East Boulder on Valmont Road.

And I love the people and the produce of Cure Organic Farm. If you think the onions and parsnips are a tempting start, just check out their Farm Store (opening May 16!!) on 75th and Valmont.

Not only will they offer just about every pick of produce your heart desires, but the farm is also home to free range eggs, pasture raised pork and lamb, grassfed beef, handmade sausages and salumis from Il Mondo Vecchio, flowers, honey, fruit from Colorado’s Western Slope… the list goes on. Give them a visit.

So enjoy the availability of local and fresh- wherever you are! Every time you purchase food you are casting a vote for the future of food production. There is true beauty in wholesome food, community, and sourcing sustainably. So go on, get out there, and give local a vote.