White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

Now that it’s starting to cool down a bit in the evenings, we can turn our thoughts to soup. There is nothing quite like a nice, cozy meal to bring family together, and Claire is here to share a recipe from her sister for comforting White Bean Soup. This is the perfect recipe to ease us into soup season. Grab a spoon and come along for story time and soup with Claire!

I have two sisters and I love them like crazy. Like a lot of siblings, we fought a lot when we were kids, but as we got older and less obnoxious, we became much closer. Though we all live far apart now, we speak on the phone often and try to get together as frequently as we can manage with our busy schedules. One of the side effects of our relatively infrequent face-to-face interaction, though, is that my older sister and I came to realize that we probably didn’t know each other as well as we thought we did. In an effort to remedy that, we have been trying to spend as much time together as possible so we can become reacquainted. Over the summer, I got to spend my vacation week at the lake with her, but by the end of my trip, I still wanted more one-on-one time. I found a relatively inexpensive flight to Denver and I planned a long weekend for some more quality time with my big sis, and, let’s be honest here, a break from the California heat.

We managed to pack three parties, three meals out, and several hours of crafting time in just Friday and Saturday, so when Sunday rolled around, we agreed that we needed a day to just sit around. We sat and knit Christmas stockings and chatted. We vented about family frustrations and work. We made plans for this Christmas and next summer, and then when we got hungry, we made plans for dinner. Unlike in California, in Colorado, the weather is actually starting to cool to boots and jean jackets temperatures, so I requested one of my all-time favorites from my sister’s dinner recipe arsenal: white bean soup.

This white bean soup is perfect because it is hearty and filling, but not heavy.

It’s easy to cook, so it fits with a lazy afternoon, and the addition of a simple green salad and some bread or crackers turns it into a good, square meal.

To make this soup, you will need:

  • 2 cans Great Northern Beans, drained
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 bacon slices, chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

White Bean Soup

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon and onion and cook until bacon fat is rendered, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add beans, chicken stock, thyme, and rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Since we are using canned beans instead of dried, there is no need to cook the beans, but simmering time will allow the flavors to deepen.

Next, blend the soup until it is smooth. If you have an immersion blender, you can achieve this step right in the pot. If not, you can use a blender or food processor to puree the soup in batches.

When the soup has reached a smooth, consistent texture, stir in the cream. Season with salt and fresh pepper and serve.

White Bean Soup

Soup is easy, but relationships are hard. They take work and dedication and willingness to be open and listen, but they reward us with a sense of kinship and emotional fulfillment. By the end of my trip to Denver, I felt like my sister and I had both revealed new facets of ourselves. I think I know her better now than I did before, and I hope she feels the same about me. Also, I hope this white bean soup tastes as good when I make it at home as it always does at her house.

Printer-friendly recipe: White Bean Soup

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

Like seemingly everyone else in the U.S., I have become fairly obsessed with La Croix, a delightful sparkling water that comes in a variety of flavors. I’ve had to cut myself off recently, as the shame of burning through two flats of it in one week was a bit more than I could handle. So of course Claire is writing about La Croix this week. It’s fine; I can handle a little temptation (no I can’t). I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ll be stocking up at the grocery store if you need me. Claire, refresh us with your sparkling wit (and water)!

When Labor Day was first conceived, the idea of labor unions was still a relatively fresh one, and somewhat controversial. Celebrating the American worker, taking time to remember that the nation runs on the backs of hard working men and women was a revelation. Like most holidays, I think a lot of the original sentiment has disappeared in our remembrance today. What’s left of the holiday is a day off from work, the reason for which that most people aren’t completely sure they understand, but the weather is nice, so what the heck, it’s a three-day weekend. I have to work on Saturday and get my week’s errands done on Sunday, so for me, Labor Day mostly means that I will be sitting through another backyard BBQ with some of my husband’s work friends that I may have met once or twice a few years back. You might assume that I would prefer to drink my way through an event like that, but in fact just the opposite is true. I’m planning to remain fully sober so I can hop into my car and skedaddle as soon as it doesn’t seem impolite.

If I’m not drinking beer or cocktails, I will need to substitute in an alternative beverage. In the face of a hot afternoon among strangers, I am not interested in drinking something sugary and dehydrating like juice or soda. If I stick to water, I’m afraid my boredom will be too obvious to my hosts and someone will try to pour me a drink. I need something fun and refreshing and light in calories to make up for the three hot dogs I plan on inhaling. I need to feel like I’m back in Michigan, floating around the lake on that giant unicorn with a cold drink in my hand.

I need La Croix.

La Croix

As a Midwestern girl, I have been delighted to see several of my favorite regional beverages hit the national market, including Vernors Ginger Soda, which I love for nostalgic reasons and because I am not a traitor to my home state, but secretly, Vernors will never be my favorite ginger soda. Faygo brand sodas were a staple of my terrible diet in high school, but their reputation has since been tainted by the fanatical devotion of the Insane Clown Posse, so who even cares about Faygo anymore. La Croix’s emergence into America’s consciousness over the last decade has been the most delightful to witness by far. These lightly flavored sparkling waters have fizzed their way into the hearts and homes of consumers across the country, and there is nothing in my California grocery store that thrills me more. Though most stores don’t stock all of the brand’s twenty flavors, the three most important flavors have become fairly available in most grocery stores, and those flavors are of course lime, pamplemousse (grapefruit), and most wondrous of all, coconut, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.

These sparkling waters are perfect La Croix on their own, but they also make fabulous mixers. I have been extending the life of a delicious but too-sweet pineapple Jarritos by adding just a small pour to a tall glass of coconut La Croix. The lime flavored is so gentle and versatile, it’s great for basically all cocktails, but I also like to add just some fresh or frozen fruit to make a pleasant warm-day beverage. The grapefruit flavor is a little more tart than the lime, and it is actually perfect with just a little bit of mint and a splash of gin, but of course, I’m leaving the gin at home this weekend. Honestly, my favorite way to drink La Croix is any flavor poured over ice, and then I like to chew on the little ice bits at the end. I haven’t decided which flavor I’ll bring with me to the BBQ, but no matter which I choose, it will be sublime, because each can I open sends me right back to the lake, where I know I truly belong.

Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation cooking is something I typically manage to avoid, as most of my vacations consist of visiting friends or staying in a hotel. I do like to cook, but I’ll be honest, there is nothing quite like having Claire cater your meals for a few days while you relax (don’t worry, sometimes I help)! This week, Claire is here to share some of her family’s traditions, along with some fabulous food. This is how you do vacation cooking! Take it away, Claire!

One of the tragedies of adulthood is the end of summer vacation. For most of us, the summer months carry on nearly identical to their colder counterparts, except perhaps that a higher percentage of the day is spent casting desperate looks out the window, accompanied by discontented sighs. Or maybe that’s just me? I think I probably spend more time than most on nostalgia, but it’s easy to cast my mind back and envy my younger self her idyllic mid-western summer breaks. As a kid in Michigan, I spent the whole summer in the water. Whether it was the dinky little pond at the far end of my subdivision, or the beautiful clear waters of Long Lake in Traverse City, my summer days were defined by the presence of water.

These days, the mid-west is still rich in water Vacation Cooking , but in California where I live, climate change and careless over-use of water has led to crisis-level drought, and the small lakes that used to exist near me have dried up completely, leaving only muddy pits and a rusted out car to mark where they used to be. The dryness of my adult existence has only exacerbated my need to indulge in memories of long days spent paddling around the lake in goggles and a snorkel, digging up clams and crayfish and interesting rocks. Eventually, I get to a point where day-dreaming isn’t enough, and I count up my vacation hours and trade them in for one precious week with my sisters in our family home on the lake.

In past summers, my parents have always been there at the lake house taking charge of our vacations. My mom did nearly all of the vacation cooking, and my dad arranged all our activities around the best times of day to be out on his catamaran. This year, they were too busy yachting down the eastern seaboard to join us, so the role of head chef fell to my sisters and me, and I must say, we rose to the occasion.

Vacation cooking presents an interesting set of complications, especially when you’re with a large group.

What are all the dietary restrictions to consider? Who is doing the grocery run? Who is doing the inevitable second grocery run when we realize that we’ve forgotten something crucial? What pots and pans are available in the vacation house? And most importantly, what can be easily made in a large enough quantity to feed 13 people without forcing some unfortunate soul to spend all day in the kitchen?

For my turn in the kitchen, I decided to make carnitas tacos. Anything that can be set up build-your-own style is a good idea in a group, and Mexican food is easy to make gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Plus, there is something so summery about tacos, especially when they are topped with salsa verde and fresh cilantro. When I cook carnitas, I always use the Serious Eats no-waste recipe. Prep is quick and easy and I can walk away for 3 hours while it cooks, float around on the lake on a gigantic unicorn until my skin starts to crisp, then head back to the kitchen, whip up the salsa verde in about 15 minutes, and bing bang boom, dinner is served. I made this for the family last year, and it was such a huge hit, we ran out of meat. This year I added two additional pounds of pork, and we still ran out. I’m telling you, this recipe is a winner.

Vacation Cooking

The next night, we did brats and burgers with sweet corn and salad, all essential summer crowd pleasers. Anything that can be thrown on the grill and served up directly is a good pick for a large group. Another night, my younger sister made meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Meatloaf isn’t exactly a quick meal to execute, but it is a family tradition, and works well for a crowd because it can be made ahead of time, and it can be easily scaled up or down as the group requires. In our family, we go huge with the meatloaf, and then we make sure there is lots of good bread for leftovers sandwiches.

Vacation Cooking

Speaking of leftovers, since we only stay in the house for week, we try very hard not to over-buy groceries, so on our last night we had a big salad to use up the remaining produce, and we served it with whatever we could scrounge out of the fridge on the side. I ate every meal on the patio overlooking the lake, surrounded by my favorite people, with my bathing suit under my dress and the sun setting in the background.

Vacation Cooking

A week at the lake is never enough, but I live for adding more lake memories to my nostalgia bank, so I take what I can get.

 

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

There’s still a little time left for some summer fun! We’ve been compiling recipes and ideas for a few years now, and we figure it’s the perfect time to share the summer fun with you.

Adult or kid (or kid at heart!), there’s something for everyone in this summer fun roundup!

First and foremost, get a batch of Boozy Poptails in the freezer right away. These adults-only frozen pops will surely get you through the last few weeks of summer!

Poptails Done

If that booze gets you feeling nostalgic, come share your childhood summer fun memories with us here.

Doing any camping this summer? Or attending a bonfire? Sarah’s fire pies are a definite must!

Campfire Pies summer fun

Another fun way to eat outdoors is having a build-your-own kabob party! Everyone gets exactly what they want all grilled to perfection!

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, Claire’s grilled salad brings the best of summer onto your plate.

Grilled Salad

Or if the heat is just too unbearable, stick with something delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Ceviche tacos make for the perfect dish on a hot day – no grill required!

The very best way to finish off summer is with the most refreshingly delicious dessert: homemade mint ice cream. Can you think of anything better? I sure can’t!

Mint Ice Cream

What are your go-to meals and activities for summer fun? Share with us!

 

 

Acclaimed Chef Couple Opens Unique SuperBite Restaurant in Portland

Acclaimed Chef Couple Opens Unique SuperBite Restaurant in Portland

Greg Denton and his wife Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton – 2016 finalists for the “James Beard Award, Best Chef Northwest” competition and named among the Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine – opened their critically acclaimed Ox Restaurant in Portland, Oregon in 2012. Just one year later, Ox – a modern Argentine steakhouse known for its sizzling grill – was named Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian.

Grill masters Greg and Gabi attribute the distinctive taste of their meat and fish to their unique wood-fired grill, which features a catch basin that captures delicious drippings from delicacies on the grill for recycling into an even tastier marinade. Greg explains, “We add a special blend of herbs and seasonings to the juice we capture, then use it to baste the steaks as they cook.” Ox is located at 2225 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 

Encouraged by the notoriety, in March the Dentons released their first cookbook: “Around the Fire: Recipes for Inspired Grilling and Seasonal Feasting from Ox Restaurant.” It includes 100 black-belt recipes for inspired backyard grillers – vegetarians and carnivores alike. The book is flagged “Number One Best-Seller” on Amazon.

Fresh on the heels of widespread acclaim for both Ox and their inaugural cookbook, the Dentons opened their second unique concept restaurant in Portland in April. According to Gabi, “SuperBite is all about small dishes packed with big flavor. It’s a thrill for chefs to have a chance to be creative and bold in devising flavorful, unusual combinations.” And the cooks’ uncustomary experience doesn’t end there. “Unlike other restaurants,” adds Gabi, “here patrons will actually be served by the team who created the food. That feedback loop will help our chefs and our concept evolve.” SuperBite is located at 527 SW 12th Ave. SuperBite

One thing not unusual about SuperBite is its kitchen countertops. They’re butcher block tops made by John Boos in Central Illinois and supplied by Boos’ online dealer, Butcher Block Co.

SuperBite John Boos According to Chef Greg, “I have used Boos equipment my entire career. They have a great reputation in the industry and such a strong following among chefs that I respect that this was one of the easiest decisions we faced in launching our new restaurant.”
About Butcher Block Co. – A leading online seller of kitchen furniture, equipment and such accessories as cutting boards, knives and knife blocks. Butcher Block Co. offers kitchen islands, carts and tables, and specializes in wood countertops. They carry products made by John Boos, Catskill Craftsmen and other leading manufacturers.
For more information, contact:
Kathleen Grodsky
[email protected]

Campfire Pies for Outdoor Fun

Campfire Pies for Outdoor Fun

I’m predicting this summer’s food trend is going to be campfire pies. I really want this to be true, at least… Campfire pies are so beautifully simple and remind me of childhood. I had completely forgotten the magic of campfire pies when Sarah mentioned them a while back, but now she has me on a mission. This is going to be the best summer. You should get on the campfire pie train, too. I promise they will make all your outdoor fun even better, and with Memorial Day coming up, you’ve only got a little time left to get your supplies. Sarah is here with all the details to get us started. Let’s make some pies!

Oh, Memorial Day weekend. That extra day off of work that feels desperately needed as you gear up for summer, the chance to get away for a weekend, the cookouts. The cookouts. My favorite thing about the holiday weekend is naturally food-inspired.

For the past ten years, my husband and his friends have been going to a cabin in a nearby state park to celebrate Memorial Day weekend. Due to us being a number of people spread out over the state, we have a Google Drive spreadsheet that goes back several years, listing who brings what. This, guys, is an excellent idea.  The cabin trip is the best kind of tradition – over the years we’ve rented boats, hiked, gone swimming, played games, played putt-putt, and gotten ice cream. Every year we add new things to do, but a few mainstays never change. One of these is the cooking out.

The firepit outside our cabin gets heavy use year after year. The first night of our trip is always dedicated to campfire pies. Consider the grilled cheese sandwich. Buttered bread, hot skillet, melty cheese. Yes? Now add the satisfaction of cooking those suckers outside on the coals of your bonfire and a fun gadget (I love fun gadgets). To make campfire pies, you will need a pie iron. I recommend having two for maximum production efficiency. You have a few options based on how you like your sandwiches. If you don’t like crust, go for one of the round pie irons, but be warned! These result in smaller pies, and you can’t stuff them as full. For bigger pies that include crust, go with this guy. Your campfire will need to have some decent coals – I recommend waiting at least half an hour after starting your fire to begin cooking.

Campfire pies are endlessly customizable and the perfect addition to your outdoor fun!

You can basically make any kind of sandwich or sweet pie with these babies. I’ve gone grilled cheese, hot ham and cheese, any kind of dessert pie you can think of, and even ooey gooey brownies (oh yes!). Sandwiches are pretty easy – some element of sauce and/or cheese is necessary to hold your pie together and give it a lot of flavor. Dessert is pretty much anything your heart desires that fits between two pieces of bread. Pie filling of any kind, pudding if you’re feeling a chocolate pie. The best dessert I’ve had is the aforementioned ooey gooey brownie, which is brownie batter poured straight into the pie iron, no bread required. Cooked correctly, you’ll open your pie iron to a molten chocolate mess that is absolutely delicious (add marshmallows for a s’mores-ey kick). Today, we’ll be making pizza pies with cherry pies for dessert.

Ingredients:

  • Stick of butter
  • Bread (go white bread, here)
  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzerella cheese
  • Pepperoni
  • Cherry pie filling

-Preheat your pie irons. Once your bonfire has some coals, position your (closed) pie iron against them to get the metal hot. It doesn’t need to be screamin’ hot, but a little preheat will help your buttering game.

-Butter! This is what gives your campfire pies that delicious sear. There are two opinions on buttering- butter your bread, or butter the pie irons. I find you use less butter (and can therefore make more pies!) when you butter the pie irons. So unwrap the end of a stick of butter and rub it on each pan of your open pie iron. Enjoy the sizzle.

-Position your bread, being careful not to burn yourself. Add pizza sauce, a good handful of mozzarella cheese, and some pepperonis. You can load up both sides of your bead if you like, but while that results in mega-flavor, it can also make your pies burst open like a hot pizza roll when you bite into it. One side of toppings is sufficient.

Campfire pies

-Close your pie iron. Many come with latches, but they can be difficult to open when your pie is done if you’re not keen on burning yourself or your food. Make sure your pie iron closes completely, or you’ll be picking ash out of your food.

-Position your pie iron on your coals. This cooktime is tricky, because it depends on how hot your coals are. After 5-8 minutes, pull your iron out of the flame, find a decent light source, and, while holding your pie iron parallel to the ground, open one side to check the doneness. You want to lift the side of the iron that has been sitting on the coals, since that is the part that has been cooking. If you have a nice grilled cheese sandwich-style sear, close your iron, and put it back on the coals on the other side.

-Once your pie is done, things get slightly tricky. Have a plate ready on a flat surface. Hold your pie iron over the plate, and open both sides slowly to pop out your sandwich.

Campfire Pies

-When it’s dessert time, butter your pie iron.

-Position your bread, then add a few spoonfuls of pie filling.

-The cooktime is about the same, maybe a little less. Be sure to check it often and flip halfway through.

-Enjoy your dessert!

Campfire Pies

One safety note: Be very, very, very careful where you place your pie irons while they are still hot but not in use! Campfires generally take place in the dark, and pie irons unfortunately do not glow in the dark or light up. My group of friends has resorted to a designated pie iron area, where all pie irons live if they are not on the fire being used. Trust me, you do not want to add a hospital visit to your fun holiday weekend because someone burned themselves badly. And it should go without saying that children should be very carefully supervised while using pie irons. To be safe, the wooden handles are the only portion of the pie iron that should be considered safe to touch.

Do you have any Memorial Day weekend traditions? What kind of campfire pie are you most excited to try first?

Mother’s Day Brunch – Croque-Madame in Honor of Mom

Mother’s Day Brunch – Croque-Madame in Honor of Mom

My lovely brothers are hosting a Mother’s Day brunch this Sunday for all of the moms in our close-knit family.  As one of the moms being honored at this Mother’s Day Brunch, I will be requesting that my brothers  follow Claire’s advice here by making something cheesy and savory and definitely topped with an egg. Claire not only provides us with another delicious breakfast/brunch recipe, she is also determined to make us all a little weepy with a beautiful dedication to her mom. I haven’t met Lynn, but if Claire is any indication, her mother has done a darn good job. Claire, I’ll hand this off to you now. Make us cry, but then please make us feel better with fantastic food!

For fairly obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about moms and motherhood these past couple of weeks. Not everyone has a mom, and not everyone who has a mom has a good mom. Reflecting on that fact makes me feel, above all, grateful that my mother, while human and flawed like anyone else, has been good and caring and supportive of me for my whole life. She put up with me and believed in me, even during my most chaotic years, which admittedly lasted far longer than they should have. She cried for me. She cheered for me. She went gray for me. Through everything, I have always known that if I needed her, she would not hesitate to be at my side, whatever the cost. She is a good mom.

Mother's Day Brunch

If anyone deserves to retire in style, my mom does, and damn it, she is doing it. This summer, she and my dad are selling the home I grew up in, and they are moving onto the boat they have spent the last 10 years restoring. They will spend the foreseeable future sailing around this gorgeous planet of ours, seeing all the things they didn’t get to see while they were busy being attentive and fiscally responsible parents. This morning, it occurred to me that once they set sail, it will be the first time in my life that my mom is going to be ACTUALLY unavailable to me, despite the fact that I moved over two thousand miles away from her eight years ago. It’s a new feeling, and one I’m having a hard time processing. It’s making me miss my mommy.

Mother's Day Brunch

So, in honor of my mom and my feelings, I am throwing a Mother’s Day brunch in her honor. Even though she’s too far away to join me at my table today, I know she’s well represented here. She taught me to appreciate a well-appointed place setting, and so I am setting the table with the linens I remember eating off of in her house, and serving the meal on her mother’s gold plates. She taught me to never scrimp where it mattered, so I am using the best ingredients I can find. And she taught me how to make Hollandaise, and it is finicky and temperamental, so I’m skipping it this year. Besides, eggs Benedict is played out.

I want something as unexpected and decadent as my mom for this Mother’s Day brunch, so I am going with croque-madame, which I am predicting will be the next big brunch staple.

Croque-Madame

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 slices of the best quality deli ham
  • 8 slices of good bread
  • 4 fresh eggs
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Start by making your béchamel. In a 1 ½ quart heavy saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk, cooking the roux until it is golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring it just to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, nutmeg, and half of the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Remove the pan from heat and cover it while you assemble the sandwiches.

Preheat the broiler with a rack in the top third of the oven. Prep a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Lay the slices of bread out, spreading a spoonful of béchamel on four of them and topping with the remaining shredded cheese. On the other four slices, spread the mustard and top each with two slices of the ham. Flip the ham side onto the cheese side and heat about a tablespoon of the remaining butter on a skillet or griddle.

Mother's Day Brunch

When the griddle is hot, carefully grill each sandwich on both sides until they are golden brown and the cheese is melted. Move the sandwiches onto the prepared baking sheet and top each one with about 1/3 cup of the béchamel. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is bubbling, then turn off the broiler and move the pan to the lower third of the oven to keep warm.

Mother's Day Brunch

Add the remaining butter to the skillet and fry the eggs sunny-side-up, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny. Top each sandwich with an egg and serve. I put the remaining sauce in a little pitcher so we could add more as we saw fit, and I went a little crazy with the pepper grinder. Making that first cut, and seeing the yolk and steam release from inside the sandwich, I knew my mom would be proud. She taught me to revere a good sauce and a runny egg, so I know she would have loved this Mother’s Day brunch meal as much as I did. I also knew that she would be the first one to like the picture I would post to Facebook later.

Mother's Day Brunch

Mama, I know you’re reading, because you are my biggest fan and you never miss one of my posts. As you literally embark upon your next adventure, I know that you will continue to live as richly as you have so far. Even though you’ll be out of my reach, I will be thinking of you often. I hope it makes you feel as good as it makes me feel to know that you have imbued me with all of your vim and vigor and your incredible power to set an inviting table and top it with a damn good meal. I love you.

Mother's Day Brunch Table Printer-friendly recipe: Croque-Madame

Can Planting More Trees Save Us from Climate Change?

Can Planting More Trees Save Us from Climate Change?

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir

“But what have trees done for us lately?” you ask. 

For starters, trees provide us wood used in the buildings that shelter us and the furniture on which we work and rest. Forests are home to two-thirds of the planet’s land species. They help capture, store and purify water passed on to cities and towns downstream. By some estimates they even supply nearly half of the ingredients found in medicines we rely on to keep us healthy. But more topical this week, as we celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day and contemplate the state of our planet, forests are effectively the lungs of the Earth. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release the oxygen we need to survive.

If you were paying attention in school you learned that carbon dioxide – the major greenhouse gas driving climate change – is in essence, plant food.

Through the process of photosynthesis, trees absorb sunlight (thanks to the presence of a pigment found in all green plants) and suck up water and carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates and oxygen.

photosynthesis_equation

Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/57561701462135038/

Photosynthesis is the most effective means for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The carbon captured is converted into tree roots, trunks, branches and leaves (collectively, “biomass”). The process absorbs nearly 30 percent of mankind’s annual carbon dioxide emissions (released principally through the combustion of fossil fuels), prompting the curious mind to ask, “is it possible to minimize, if not altogether eliminate, the threat of climate change by planting more trees?”

Here’s the short answer: Planting more trees – in and of itself – will not solve global warming. After all, it’s called the carbon cycle for a reason. Carbon sequestered in biomass must someday return back to the atmosphere, either through natural decay or human interference. Newly planted or regenerating forests can continue to absorb carbon for 50 years or more, however, it is hypothesized that even if tree-planting were executed on a massive scale, the incremental trees would capture only 2 to 3% of total annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Link: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/nov/29/planting-trees-climate-change

Make no mistake, deforestation contributes to global warming.

In fact, it’s the second leading cause. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that tropical deforestation (e.g., in the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia) causes as much as 10% of the world’s heat-trapping emissions to go unabsorbed each year. [source: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/stop-deforestation/deforestation-global-warming-carbon-emissions.html#.Vxp1i2NZsy5] That’s why it’s important that the trees we do use come only from well-managed forests where sustainable practices are rigorously employed, such as North America’s hardwood forests.

Whereas the Kyoto Protocol encourages tree planting and reforestation, experimental projects to date have identified a number of hurdles, including the high input costs (principally land and labor) and the cost of protecting young trees from natural threats. One other interesting learning is that we must plant the right trees in the right places. Tropical forests benefit the planet by lowering overall temperature, whereas forests far from the equator are more likely to trap heat in their dense canopies, thereby raising temperatures. [source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory].

So while planting more trees cannot reverse global warming, you simply can’t go wrong by greening up your neighborhood and your planet, and by buying lumber and finished goods made of wood harvested from woodlands that are managed in a sustainable fashion so they are sure to absorb the maximum amount of carbon possible.

Favorite Breakfast Recipe – Biscuits and Gravy

Favorite Breakfast Recipe – Biscuits and Gravy

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then you better be paying attention, because Claire is about to share the most important recipe of your life! I sing Claire’s praises a lot around here, so it’s about dang time she gives up the recipe for my favorite breakfast of all time – BISCUITS AND GRAVY! She has made these for me every time I’ve gone to visit, and even my picky kid likes them. I have had biscuits and gravy from (at least) a dozen different restaurants, even in a couple in the South, but nobody makes them as good as Claire. Looking over this recipe, I’m a little surprised by how easy this is. I could actually do this, and if I can summon a little of that special Claire Hoenke magic, I bet mine will come out at least half as good (and that would be good enough for me!). Ok, let’s get moving along. Claire, enlighten us, please.

Last year around this time, I made a beautiful and nutritious breakfast for you using beautiful and nutritious spring produce. This is not that post.

This morning I had to take my kids to the doctor. They both needed to have procedures done, and they were going to be under anesthesia so the doctor told me to go home and wait for them to call me. When I got home, I didn’t have to use my purse to block the kids from running out the door. I sat down on the couch, and I didn’t have to worry about my youngest climbing onto my chest and burrowing into my hair. I decided to make breakfast, and I didn’t have to worry about my oldest jumping onto the counter and eating the ingredients. Oh, wait, did I say, “my kids”? I meant my cats, though for real, they are my kids, and it is really weird when they’re not here. I don’t like it.

Breakfast

(His name is Bacon. He is perfect.)

To deal with the discomfort of my weird, empty house, I decided I needed to curl up in the cocoon of some rich, creamy, easy-to-make, unhealthy comfort food. I mean real, serious business comfort food. The thing you always want to order in a breakfast cafe, but maybe you don’t think you should, or you don’t want to be seen eating it in public because you’re already a fat lady eating in public and you already have your own weird food issues and you don’t need that kind of judgement from strangers… ahem… Maybe that last one is just me. Anyway, that forbidden thing for me is biscuits and gravy. Luckily, sausage gravy is so easy to make at home, you never need to order it at a restaurant, which is actually good because it saves you from a lot of disappointing gravies that are really never as good as the recipe I am about to share with you.

Since I’m going for ease and speed, I am going to opt for a simple drop biscuit today. Combine your dry ingredients, cut in the butter, add the milk, drop on the pan, and bake. Bing bang boom. I’m also adding cheese to my biscuits because it’s my party and dammit, I love cheese. I really only make my fancy buttermilk biscuits for company, because they’re always going to play second fiddle to the gravy anyway. Honestly, you could put any bready thing under it and call it a success.

These Biscuits and Gravy make the perfect breakfast – delicious, fulfilling, and surprisingly easy.

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (one stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup milk or half and half

Gravy

  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 1/3 cup flour, divided
  • 4-5 cups milk
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Seasoned salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients, and then use your fingers or a pastry cutter to cut in the butter. If you want to add in any additional ingredients (cheese, bacon, herbs, etc.), now is the time. Stir in the milk and use two spoons to drop the biscuits in semi-freeform lumps onto the baking sheet. I like mine to be kind of rounded, but with craggy edges so the finished biscuit has a little crunch to it. Bake until they’re golden brown with crunchy bits, about 15 to 20 minutes, and then serve.

Breakfast

While the biscuits are baking, make your gravy. Put the sausage into a heavy pan or skillet and brown it over medium high heat, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage into bits. When it is cooked through, add the flour in two phases, stirring until it is absorbed. Use the spoon to stir the sausage around and cook the flour, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan, for about a minute or two. Add the milk, and stir, stir, stir while the gravy thickens. If it gets too thick, just add a little more milk. When the texture is right, season with hot sauce, black pepper, and seasoned salt, and spoon it over your biscuits.

breakfast

And just like that, you have a lovely, indulgent bowl of comfort right there to pet your tummy and remind you that your cats are just fine and they’ll be home tonight, and they’ll probably be all goofy and extra-snuggly while the anesthesia wears off. In the meantime, you don’t have to worry about Bacon trying to steal a bite of that sweet, sweet gravy. Sausage gravy brings out the truth in us, as evidenced today by my outing myself as a fat cat lady who eats her feelings. So who does the gravy reveal in you?

Printer-friendly recipe: Biscuits and Gravy

Football = Butcher Block Co.

Football = Butcher Block Co.

There’s a lot of talk about The Big Game… certainly a relevant and timely subject to blog about.  But having already blogged about great game-day appetizer recipes or tips for entertaining guests for the big game, I really wanted to do something fresh and unique.  But how do you connect the culmination of football season to the biz of butcher blocks?  Well thanks to some creative writing by my son, Mathew Grodsky, he has cleverly laminated these two subjects together.

Loyal readers, Superbowl 50 is right around the corner! A day that revolves around two major sports franchises bumping heads while the rest of us huddle around our television screens. Why have we become so enamored with football? There are many theories but a likely one is because the struggle that these teams face to rise up as the cream of the crop every season speaks to us as Americans. It is relatable to us because we strive to be the best in our endeavors every day. A warning, this blog is not a series of inspirational metaphors on American work ethic. Instead, it’s about “relatability”.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the euphoria that comes with America’s greatest sporting event, let us not forget that football relates to ButcherBlock Co. in, oh, so many ways. Seriously.

If you think about it, football players devote themselves to being masters of their craft in an effort to be superb in their profession. They are truly elite athletes whose commitment through long labor hours is all fueled by their passion for the game. Similarly, creating butcher block requires skilled craftsmanship, a devotion to long labor hours, and a fiery passion. At Butcher Block Co. our John Boos craftsmen have created an elite line of products. See where I’m going with this?

Superbowl 50 is a showdown between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. Many speculate that this will be the final game for Broncos’ seasoned quarterback Peyton Manning as he has struggled to find his rhythm this year and has looked a bit overused. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As it relates, seasoned butcher block may look worn but it still retains its great character, integrity and strength while appearing worn as a result of years of love and use.

Nevertheless, Manning should be entering this game with high confidence given his team bumped off the New England Patriots, a team shrouded in controversy due to the deflate gate scandal of last year when footballs were allegedly made flatter than a butcher block countertop.

Denver’s strong side linebacker, Von Miller, is a fifth-year linebacker and three-time Pro Bowl selection whose 49 career sacks represent the sixth most in the NFL by a player through his first four seasons. Wide, thick, and sturdy atop a set of broad legs, ButcherBlock Co. features John Boos’ largest AA block built just like Von Miller, and certainly just as durable.

Denver had seven penalties against the Patriots in the championship game against New England. Going forward, they will need to avoid silly penalties such as having 12 men on the field. Every football fan knows there are only 11 players allowed on the field per team while ButcherBlock Co. allows customers to select 11 differently sized team-mates for the Boos AA block.

If the Broncos are to have any success in this game against Carolina, their offensive linemen will need to protect Manning in the pocket; if they do it right then Manning should resemble an island because no one should be around him – preferably he’ll resemble a Catskill Craftsmen Island with drop leaf, allowing him extra space in case he needs to drop back and throw a Hail Mary.

The Broncos certainly have their work cut out for them as their opponent is fired up and on a scoring hot streak. In Sunday’s NFC championship game between the Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina quarterback, Cam Newton, proved he could air mail long bombs down the field to his wide receivers seemingly without consequence. That kind of superb “shipping” was something the Cardinals failed to duplicate, but seems to be right out of the Butcher Block Co. playbook given their offer of  free shipping on all furniture purchases!

The Panther’s head coach and former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, Ron Rivera, has led his team to a nearly perfect season. He should be feeling pretty proud these days considering the Bears put him on the chopping block in 2006 – not to be confused with the chopping blocks at ButcherBlock Co. which include a plethora of affordable options. So if you ever have a defensive coordinator that needs to be fired you can simply pull out the chopping block.

Still not convinced football relates directly to ButcherBlock Co.? Well, this year the Superbowl will take place on February 7th, 2016. That’s 76 years to the day that Walt Disney’s second feature length film “Pinocchio” premiered in New York City, therefore solidifying the fact that this day could be about the magic of wood… and equally relatable to wood’s elemental contributions to ButcherBlockCo.’s finest butcher block furniture and accessories.

Yeah, I may be reaching here. But we can all look forward to great blocks at both the Superbowl and Butcher Block Co.!