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.

Vermont Inspired Dinner for Twenty

Just as my ‘team’ in class had the fun of serving friends and family our rustic Italian inspired meal a couple weeks ago, the other half of class decided on an all-American dinner… with a little extra Vermont maple and white cheddar tossed in the mix.

We prepared most of the menu as a class, but when dining time rolled around, my team was able to sit and be served… quite a treat, actually! And the fuel for a leisurely natural light photo shoot. So enjoy a little home cookin’…culinary student style.

Amuse bouche to awake the palate: fried goat cheese round with balsamic reduction and citrus tossed micro greens…

Spinach salad with maple bacon balsamic dressing served in an asiago cheese bowl, and chilled vichyssoise with parsley puree and roasted red pepper oil…

A pork loin was given the royal rolled-up treatment: spinach, caramelized onions, tart green apples, and andouille sausage. Grilled spring asparagus, crispy onions and smashed red-skin potatoes… and cheddar jalapeño focaccia in the background…

Classic homestyle strawberry shortcake underwent an adult makeover: savory buttermilk biscuit topped with a compote of strawberry, maple, and orange liqueur… and whipped almond chantilly cream.

Two of my neighbors were sweet enough to keep me company and be my dinner guests. And if miles would permit… I’d set each of you a spot. Perhaps next time around~

Popcorn kind of Sunday

It might seem strange to think that I’ve prepared osso bucco but I’ve never actually cooked popcorn on the stove. There it is. In writing. And without Shira’s blog inspiration, I very well might have made it another mere seven weeks and graduated from culinary school only having executed the (somewhat taboo in the profession kitchen) microwave version.

That said, I did make ‘popcorn’ on the stove out of amaranth in class once. I suppose it would be pop-amaranth, but that just sounds funny. Amaranth is a tiny grain, about the size of a poppy seed. With a little salt and, of course, butter, it was quite fantastic eaten with a spoon. But back to the popcorn.

It’s a rainy Sunday evening at the end of what’s been a ‘me’ weekend, and popcorn is in order. And sure enough, it seems a brighter shade of white and has a deeper taste of grain than it’s push-button counterpart. My only regret in the process is that I should have made more. Four cups popped sounded reasonable for one…

Sometimes we need a little break from the rest of the world- or at least I do… occasionally. And this weekend has been completely perfect. Farmers’ Market on Saturday was every bit the treat I anticipated. I left with a few more heirloom tomato seedlings, several three-inch-tall nasturtiums, a camera satisfied to have found root vegetables in a myriad of colors, and a little sun on my shoulders.

Several sweaty workouts- much needed- squeezed their way into the agenda; and I was fortunate to spent Saturday evening with a wonderful friend visiting town.

And I have literally scheduled an hour to read for fun tonight. I just may have to pop another batch…

Last Stop World Cuisine: India

Our culinary whirlwind world tour has reached a necessary end as we turn our focus to farm-to-table topics such as canning and preserving as well as practice for final examinations.

But thankfully a last stop in India gave us a chance to play with curries and lentils, lamb and naan…

Samosas in both vegetarian and ground lamb versions, with a crispiness that only a deep fryer can lend… I’m not generally a deep-fried kind of gal, but the filling flavors in these were perfect.

Lentil curry with a side of yogurt-based cucumber raita… I adore the refreshing flavor of a cucumber paired with savory healthy lentils.

Lamb vindaloo with its rich spiciness and our grill-top version of chicken tandoori:

More lentils made their way into Masoor dal…

And no Indian feast or everyday dinner could respect itself without naan. Our oven-stone version wasn’t entirely authentic, but it was as close as a Colorado kitchen could get without a tandoor. Caramelized onion (above) and garlic/parsley versions:

Thank you for the company on our little world tour~