Friday, December 2, 2011

Boss Around The Food Adventuress!

Hey y'all, 

So, I'm VERY stoked that we have purchased my new Whirlpool EnergyStar kitchen appliances (microwave, fridge, range and dishwasher) and they will be arriving next week.  I'm almost as excited that I get to mark off some commitments on my Practically Green action list!  (Read more over on Little Magpie, on the PG blog and nwaMotherlode!)
Obviously, I will immediately shun all non-homemade meals for quite some time in my enthusiasm. The question will be what to prepare for the maiden voyages of my new partners in kitchen crime! So, I invite you to boss me around. 
I'm seeking a few new things to to try. The guidelines are pretty broad: though I'm a vegetarian, I cook meat for my family. (More on my overall food philosophy here.)  So, a chicken dish (for example) will work provided there are ample side items (I'm happy with a grain and a veggie as my meal on a fairly regular basis) or the meat item can be prepared separately. I'm not into fancy schmancy (Julie and Julia can stick with the beef bourgignon) or uber-involved, but I will happily chop and cook lengthy meals if the end justifies the means.  I'm not really into shortcuts (prepared, canned or frozen over fresh) or processed (cheez whiz, rotel et al), but I suppose I'm malleable.  Frying is an absolute rarity, and I do skew pretty healthy, but hey: be a negative influence on me!  There's no telling what I'm missing.

Also: we are all fans of fish and shellfish up in here. 
Last but not least, I'm highly likely to take whatever directions and recipes you offer and do whatever I want with them, to offer fair warning. However, I'll give credit where credit is due.  So, send me to your blogs, your tried and true recipes, your favorite websites, photos of your tattered recipe cards and directives to the undiscovered but fabulous recipes on boxes of pasta.  Bring it all.   

I'll test 'em as I get to know my new appliances and report on it all ad nauseum.  And, I'll obviously link to your bloggity blogs.

I await your instruction.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Cutting Confession

This post about dads, my knives and knife sharpening is over here at The Little Magpie:

Still trying to decide whether to merge the two blogs but leaning toward it! Thoughts?

Friday, October 28, 2011

(Foodie) Life Lessons Learned from Mom - Part 5

If you've been landing at and then exploring my series of (Foodie) Life Lessons Learned from Mom here on The Food Adventuress, thanks!  Here's the fifth (and final) obsession installment:

I've mentioned the life lessons of no special treatment, preparation, reading the instructions and proceeding slowly, seeking inspiration and embellishing.  Finally, life lesson five: honor tradition.

Honestly, my family is fairly certain they've bred a monster in me.  Straying in the slightest from years of tradition makes me nearly break out in hives.  It's not that I'm an inflexible human being, I swear!  (Sort of.)  It's just that in the same way that consistency and the comfort of our routines gives me a compass by which to navigate life, tradition helps me understand where I've been and where I'm going.  In fact, I now understand that this same predictability is a very small gift I offer my own family and specifically my children, but that it will be years before they can thoroughly unwrap it.
Here's the food-focused version:

Fall means pumpkin soup.  (Granted, my family abhorred it, and we no longer speak of it.  But I can taste it, and I still love it.)

Easter means hot cross buns.

Christmas Eve means fondue, inexplicably, and Christmas day means German stollen and prime rib.

May calls me to sneak around with my daughter leaving May Day surprises, June summons me to celebrate summer and July sends a signal for both Independence Day and Bastille Day.  In August, I pack my family up for a Perseid Picnic.  In September, I'm prone to a back to school celebration and in October, I notice the harvest moon.  In November, we gather those we love and those who may not have a place to feel warmth and camaraderie, and we give thanks for things mentioned and many more things unmentioned.

Long ago, people were drawn more strongly to the seasons and their related meanings.  Whether I'm reading the Little House on the Prairie series or jotting the latest seasonal attributes on our kitchen chalkboard, I've learned that the seasons and traditions matter.  At best, they offer us the sentiment that life and intentional living matter, and at least, they remind us that predictability feels good. 

I'm wrapping up a month of thinking about my Mom and the way she influenced and influences my life in countless ways.  We're approaching the holiday season, when we can allow ourselves to be drawn to what matters or to be overwhelmed by a sense of obligation.  I would challenge you just as I challenge myself to stop, slow down, honor the past and move with an eye to the future.  

This year, belatedly, our family grabbed a simple mason jar on top of the fridge and started pitching little cut up index cards in it with our favorite sayings and memories of the year.  We'll read them all together on New Year's Even as we thrash into another year together.  We started this little habit mid-August.  I could have skipped mentioning it because I thought my family might make fun of my corniness, or that it was so late in the year that we shouldn't even bother.

Instead, my gamble was rewarded by their enthusiasm.  Now, when things we know in the moment to be meaningful threaten to pass by, my daughter or my husband mentions that we ought to throw it in the jar.  And this year, when I embrace my own full corniness and serve up our Thanksgiving stuffing in a carved-out pumpkin, I'll be prepared to endure the smart remarks and the (passing) jokes.  I'll know that just like the Christmas Eve fondue, the attempted new traditions may or may not endure, but what will remain will be the memories and an assurance in our family that we care enough to risk a joke or two for the sake of tradition.

And that is enough.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

(Foodie) Life Lessons Learned from Mom - Part 4

Clearly, it isn't easy to encapsulate all that I've learned in the kitchen and in life from my Mom in one paltry series of blog posts.  I feel a bit below par just for recording them here rather than with pen and paper.  However, what matters is that the thoughts and memories are captured, rather than wishing someday that they had been.

And so, as I type away and attempt to get to the heart of the matter, I sit near my pantry, which is well-stocked with cookbooks new and well-loved.  A dear friend knew that I should soak in the greatness that was her grandfather, and when I visited his cozy, cluttered and eccentric home without a surface to spare (all of these attributes conveyed with much admiration), I saw that his life was captured in cookbooks.  It changed my outlook on what could easily be conveyed as part of the past, a Fahrenheit-451-esque view that cookbooks are easily replaced by searchable, digital recipes. 

Today, I enjoy collecting grimy recipe cards and dog-eared cookbooks.  To (I suspect) my mother's horror, I write enthusiastically in the margins of each cookbook, noting when I made a dish for the first time and how it went.  If some future offspring a few generations down the line chooses to keep one of my cookbooks and find comfort in the notations, so be it - and if they are lost to the sands of time, there is no harm done.

While my Mom is not any more enthusiastic about dog-earing a book by turning down pages to keep your place than she is affronting the body with a tattoo, here I think we agree: cookbooks are a source of inspiration.  And herein lies life lesson four: one must seek ample inspiration and then embellish and experiment.  

In retrospect, she might be surprised that she taught me these traits.  However, Mom's well-worn and time-loved cookbooks beg to differ.  The recipes torn from the newspaper or pulled from periodicals and shared belie her appreciation for print publications.  I received many a manila envelope full of newspaper clippings in my developing years.  Sometimes, an article on a place I'd visited (or ought to visit).  Others, a recipe or Dear Abby column (not so) subtly conveying an opinion.  But always, the true epitome of a "care" package.  And of course, Dad slipped in a column or two on financial security and investing.  Mom might or might not be surprised to know that I interpret cookbooks and travel tomes as an interpretation of inspiration and experimentation.  Bite-sized but still life-altering in their own context.

In 1997, I shipped off for France and five months of backpacking through Europe.  Boarding the plane and setting off into the American view of the sun setting over my left shoulder as the flight bore East, I slowly opened a package in my carry-on bag from Mom - she has a habit of slipping little things into our bags or spots we won't discover for a while.  It held a a little sterling silver charm that I recognized from an antiqueing excursion earlier that summer in Ellensburg, Washington.

Just as Mark Twain discovered that his father was far less hapless than he had imagined ("When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."), I had learned that a relationship with my Mom was inexplicable, but highly desirable.  In fact, that excursion was fraught with the turmoil of a young woman in transition and the strain of our developing connection, which has thankfully evolved to the point that I consider a conversation with my Mom to be a non-negotiable part of every week of my life.

The charm on a slender chain was a cowboy inside a little fence, with a gate that read "Don't Fence Me In" - a not-so-subtle encouragement from my Mom to see the world.  She thought, in fact, that five months as a twenty year old exploring Europe completely alone was far too little, and that I should stay a year.

The package also held a bookmark, obviously.  Mom gave me countless bookmarks through the years, conveying her appreciation of a well-read life and so many other virtues in the process.  This one read:

Fly high.
Look with open eyes.
See a new world.
Learn much.
Open your heart to a new world.
Honor God.
Have fun!
Mom - love 
1997 September

Honestly, you can't possibly understand all that - unless you do.  Suffice it to say that in the kitchen, and in life, Mom adequately conveyed that I must seek inspiration and experiment.

And so, obvious or not, I consider simply embellishing a recipe with my own life experiences and the inspiration that strikes in the moment to substitute an ingredient with my own embellishment and see what transpires to be the highest form of admiration and respect.

Thanks, Mom. ♥

Monday, October 24, 2011

(Foodie) Life Lessons Learned from Mom - Part 3

By current standards, I would most definitely have been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD.  While in my first nonprofit gig with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Arkansas years ago, I remember attending a workshop where I learned of the supposedly telltale physical signs of such afflictions: the way hair parts on the scalp and so forth.  I instinctively never checked myself against the list, knowing I would be likely to find multiple occurrences.

Regardless, Mom wouldn't have sought medication, she returned to the tactics she employed best as a classroom teacher of 5 - 7 year olds.  Discipline.  Repetition.  Routines.  Preparation.

And so when the time came to push my boundaries and force me to begin the long road to being a productive adult, Mom began with pistachio pudding.  Obviously.

She summoned me to the kitchen, where I found a step stool, a large bowl, a measuring cup and a whisk along with a box of pistachio pudding.  I was to a) carefully read the directions and b) follow them.

Naturally, I glanced at them and vaguely skimmed the directions, grabbed the milk, spilled it while pouring and was consequently stopped in my tracks.  "Stop.  Read the directions."  I weakly replied that I had.  I was told to revisit them.  I was told that I could not hold the measuring cup while pouring the milk, because I would tip it toward me and skew the measurement.  I was told to set the measuring cup on the counter and then pour the milk.

I proceeded, and everything seemed really watery.  The directions said it would be set and ready to eat in five minutes.  I stared.  It didn't seem set.

Eventually, it turned out well and I had the pride of a lion tamer at my hand-crafted, unnaturally green dessert.  It received rave reviews from my Dad and arched eyebrows plus rolled eyes from my Mom, albeit with pride twitching at the corners of her mouth.

I learned that I should probably prepare everything I'll need for an adventure in advance.  I learned that I should probably read and understand the directions, or my marching orders, thoroughly.  I learned that the proper outcome sometimes requires a little time and patience, both of which I often lack.

Now, in the kitchen, I often hold a measuring glass up to eye level while pouring, and I feel guilty every time.  Granted, I've also learned that many of my dishes and kitchen adventures (see ignoring the rules and my initial disclaimer for reference) often turn out alright even if the exact specifications are disregarded.  However, I've also learned that in the kitchen, as in life, thorough preparation and reading of the instructions is always a good call.  It is one thing to have no idea what you're supposed to be doing, and another entirely to know and then blatantly disregard the directions.

And so, lesson number three: read the instructions, lay out all the necessary items and proceed slowly.  

Sigh.  Sorry, Mom - I'm still mastering this one.  ♥

Sunday, October 16, 2011

(Foodie) Life Lessons Learned from Mom - Part 2

As you may have gathered in the previous post, we are a well-intentioned if often-straying family when it comes to food.  Here's the thing: I think that is true of every family.  Removing the barriers and, more importantly, the pitfalls is the key to success in so many things.

Mom would buy grapefruit and then painstakingly slice it, prep it, leave it in the fridge and post a note as to its existence near the cereal.  She bought and washed grapes.  She sliced cantaloupe.  She placed bananas in a visible and enticing spot on the counter.  It was (and is) genius, really.  Lesson two: preparation, preparation.  

Honestly, it is shocking how late in life I realized her tactics.  Each night, the coffee was prepped and the timer set.  A tray with all the appropriate accessories (spoons, sweetener, mugs) was readied... because honestly, does anyone want to search the deep recesses of their mind while uncaffeinated to figure out how to brew coffee on a weekday morning?  Breakfast cereal, bowls and spoons were laid out.  Skipping breakfast was not encouraged and met with almost as much of a lecture as far grander transgressions.

Now, I understand the method to the madness and preparation.  Breakfast is unlikely to be skipped when the thinking is done for you.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are very likely to be grabbed and consumed when the work is removed.  We thought we were choosing to reach into the fridge and swipe a handful of grapes of our own free will.  Alas, we were being cunningly manipulated into healthy choices.

I take it a step further with my obsessive meal preparation.  I consider the options, prepare the shopping list and write the menu on giant chalkboards in my kitchen.  I think a lot of people assume I do it for some sort of statement or a rubbing of my Martha Stewart-esque ways into their collective faces.  Au contraire... I dread the witching hour when I arrive home from work exhausted and preoccupied.  Without preparation, that hour arrives and I make a maddening move: I open the fridge or pantry door and stand there, baffled, staring into the depths, hypothesizing with my feeble mind what I will make for dinner.  A plan and a clearly-posted menu take all of that away.  Suddenly, we aren't the family microwaving cheese onto tortillas and passing them off as "quesadillas" or picking up fast food or making breakfast for dinner... again.  We are a family with a good meal ahead of us.  My kids and husband smell good things from the kitchen and know that I care.  The systemic chopping is therapy for my work-torn soul.

Preparation, in the home and in the kitchen as well as in life, turns out to be the best defense.  It's shocking, really.

And so, I'm now the mom who, on a weekend afternoon like this one, quietly congratulates herself and realizes she has made one small parenting step, and that one small step leads to another.  The neighborhood kids have been playing in the late autumn sun all afternoon.  The time has arrived when one breaks from the stupor of play long enough to realize they are very hungry (and they have to go to the bathroom).  The kids all disperse to their respective homes, operating on an unspoken childhood pact and hoping for a quick-grab snack and a hasty return to play without being apprehended by chores or parental demands.

I watch quietly and unnoticed as some, though not all, of the neighbor kids re-emerge from their homes with processed, individually-packaged (i.e. convenience) foods and disposable water bottles.  It won't kill them, and it definitely won't be the end of humanity.  But again, I won't lie about the pang of pride as my kid saunters in, grabs one of her chilled, reusable stainless water bottles from the fridge, downs a big swig and covertly swipes some grapes and a hunk of cantaloupe from the fridge before springing back out into the afternoon sun.

She definitely got away with something.  I did, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

(Foodie) Life Lessons Learned from Mom - Part 1

Today is my Mom's birthday - read The Glamorous Glennis here .  I'd been mulling over this series for a while, and kicking it off today seems a fitting tribute.  For all that you knew about that you conscientiously taught me in the kitchen, thank you.  For all that you didn't know about but, I suspect, vaguely hoped you taught me about life in the kitchen, thank you even more.  ♥

By comparison, I definitely grew up in a household where family style meals were the norm.  My mom would probably argue that she didn't cook that often, but she absolutely did.  She used an arsenal of fairly familiar meals and fresh ingredients.  Although I stopped eating meat at age 15 and Mom didn't pander to my whims, I always found it easy to make a full meal out of what she prepared for the family.  Lesson 1: You won't get special treatment, and meals are prepared for everyone.  Make your own adjustments.

Regardless of my fickle teenage whims, I looked forward to the smell whipping me in the face when I came in the back door after activities or sports practice.  One whiff told you whether it was orange juice chicken, spaghetti, Chinese (an all-encompassing term for various stir fry dishes) or, to my chagrin despite its relative merits, meatloaf.

But that whiff conveyed many other things: even though I knew, I asked what was for dinner.  Even though she knew I knew, Mom told me.  I knew she cared enough to buy the groceries and fix an involved meal even when she probably didn't feel like it.  I knew we would all sit down to the table together.  I knew to pull back my hair and wash my hands, and to use manners: a napkin in my lap, no elbows on the table and please and thank you even as a sullen teen.  Sulking may have been mildly tolerated as a teenage phase, but overlooking these simple expectations was not.  I could certainly stalk off to my lair after dinner, but not before asking to be excused.  I knew, above all, that many things in my life were consistent and predictable, and that the comfort of our routines feels good.

The lesson of the meal prepared for the greater, familial good mattered because I was free to make my own choices, but Mom wasn't going to plan dinner around me.  Lesson subtitle: I love you, but the world doesn't revolve around you.  Second lesson subtitle: you will act appropriately, and our family has rules and standards.

When my older daughter was about age three, I did what I thought I was supposed to do as a new parent and picked up "kid-friendly" things like fish sticks, chicken nuggets and miniature pizza bites.  Then, I started reading the ingredients and the sodium content and thought about the lack of real ingredients.  By contrast, the meals my husband and I ate were well planned, fresh and enjoyable.  I stopped immediately and realized I was on the road to developing a picky eater.  It's shocking how quickly a child stops informing you of what they don't like when no other options are presented.  Now, Chez Stephens, your plate must be cleared but a small treat or dessert is always an option when that happens.  If you don't clear your plate, no other meal options are offered and you'll find yourself hungry.  I don't mention to my kiddos that I was once in deep trouble for pouring my glass of milk into a nearby plant instead of drinking it.  More on that later.

It probably didn't hurt in the early years that I turned mussels into "We're having seashells for dinner!"  Regardless of the tactics, my eldest now eats an impressive array of foods, and I suspect the small one will follow suit.  The eldest loves "snacky dinner," which in our house translates to a sampling of things like cheeses, meats, crackers, fruits and vegetables.  She considers cherry tomatoes a preferable snack and loves finding a fridge full of washed and ready to grab items like grapes, carrots, cantaloupe and grapefruit.  Sure, she would devour a pantry full of Ding Dongs and Twinkies, but they aren't there, so there isn't much opportunity.  She is baffled that other kids don't love bananas as much as she does, and recently did an impressive pitch to a neighbor kid joining us for dinner on the virtues of "my mom's mushroom pasta."

We're not saints - we keep around things like fruit snacks and cookies, but the household favorites are ice cream sandwiches and dark chocolate bars that we dip in peanut butter.  Currently, there are some packaged cupcakes and a boxed yellow cake mix baked and frosted in chocolate frosting on the counter, but it all works here.  A friend just told me that she felt like she was corrupting my child when they stopped by Burger King recently and Sophie told her that she had been there once or twice before.  Definitely, definitely we are not martyrs - we don't preach our approach, we just do it, and the way other families do things is up to them and we are not judging.  However, I'm not going to lie that I felt a strong pang of pride.  She gets fast food, because we are as harried as the next family - but the fact that it isn't a staple of our lives makes me feel some sense that we are getting it right.

More importantly, I realize that every single day of my upbringing, Mom was teaching me simple lessons.  I cling to these things when I feel overwhelmed by the challenge of raising small humans.  And then, I realize that it isn't about how many meals we ate at the table together as a family last week - it's about the day when it all blurs together in the collective consciousness of my daughters, and they remember that more often than not, I cooked for them as a feeble expression of my love.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Food Adventuress Goes Green (Eat Your Veggies!)

Today I'm completely honored to have a guest blog post on Eat Local When You Eat Out over at Practically Green ( and!

There's mention of some of my favorite spots to dine in addition to the fun of contributing to one of PG's action items for a sustainable lifestyle.  I'm also pretty stoked to have my main blog,, mentioned over at EcoPressed.  What a fun week!

Thanks to both current and new readers of both The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress.  It's such a treat to share with you, and even more of a treat to interact.

Starting next Wednesday, October 12 (my Mom's birthday) and running throughout the remainder of October, watch for a five post blog series on (Foodie) Life Lessons From Mom - hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More Books To Devour

I posted last month on some of my favorite foodie reads: Books to Devour.  If you didn't read it, I'd love for you to skim it and add your favorite food-centric reads.  I also set up a special shelf on Goodreads for these tantalizing tomes.

Today, I'm adding to it all the books on my foodie "to read" list.  Although I just read and couldn't get enough of The Hunger Games trilogy, I suppose they don't technically count.  As the winter months approach, here are a few of the books I'll be tackling from my hibernation post on the couch by the fireplace:

1.  Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

2.  How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson

3.  The Sweet Life in Paris: A Recipe for Living in the World's Most Delicious City by David Lebovitz

4.  Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

5.  Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate by Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris

6.  Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell

7.  Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon

8.  Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

9.  The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering and eating locally (all on $40 a week) by Robin Mather

10.  A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain

These are all catalogued along with those I've already read on my Goodreads "Books to Devour" shelf.  I note with some amusement that the vast majority of the books on this list offer the clever minimalist one to three word title followed by a colon and an exhausting interpretation as you might read on the book jacket if you wanted to further explore the book's premise.  It's ok, they've done it for you right there on the cover!

Any additions?  Which foodie books are whetting your appetite?

Also: I'm excited about launching a series next Wednesday, October 12 (my Mom's birthday) honoring her and the (foodie) life lessons she taught me in the kitchen.  I hope you'll tune in for the rest of the month and share some of your own stories of kitchen inspiration!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Food I Find Pinteresting

Hello foodie friends,

You may realize that I do not post predictably or regularly here on The Food Adventuress. My main blog is, and I find this blog to be most satisfying when I don't force it and simply let inspiration strike.  However, with that said, I am certainly in the kitchen far more frequently when hibernation months are upon us. If you'd like to keep up between posts, however, please visit The Food Adventuress on Pinterest:

I think of it as my virtual recipe idea file, and I pin good eats to try out almost daily. And, once in a while I even get around to making them! Friday was my sister's birthday, and we are both adorers of Blue Moon beer. So, naturally I had to make her these Blue Moon cupcakes:

And then, naturally, I had to take this highly inappropriate picture of my young child playing with the Blue Moon box:

A mere twenty years until she can raise a toast to Birthday Aunt

And that is why there are some days when I simply should not blog.  Anyway, hope you'll follow along on Pinterest, or follow The Food Adventuress on the Twitter if you're so inclined:!/foodadventuress

Then meet me back here, same bat channel (but not necessarily same bat time) for more foodie fun. What have you been cooking up lately?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Books to Devour

During this summer's vacation, I noticed I had selected a number of food-centric books, which I promptly (and appropriately) devoured.  More, by the way, on the vacation food in a forthcoming post.  Anyway, being an avid reader, it also occurred to me that some of my favorite books are rather food focused.  It seemed appropriate to begin (for others to finish) a foodie book list.  That, of course, got me thinking about foodie films, so that will be forthcoming as well.  

As an aside, check out the Top Northwest Food Blogs You Should Be Reading over at my friend Lyndi's NWA Foodie blog.  I'm honored that The Food Adventuress is included on her list, and would contend this novice blog aside, these are some of the best blogs you'll read just about anywhere.  Plus, it's a great time to visit NWAFoodie since she is doing some amazing giveaways to celebrate her blog's second anniversary!

Without further ado, a few of my favorite foodie books, with fingers crossed you'll add your own at the end:

1.  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: Obviously.
2.  Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell: The story of a New Yorker's challenge to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking not only is this a great food read, it's also a great read for bloggers.

3.  My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme: It's a treat to read both this and Julie & Julia in any order.

4.  The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand Normally not the kind of book I pick up if judging its cover, which features an exuberant couple and therefore makes me want to skip it and other romance-esque tomes, but a quick review of the premise had me hooked, and the first few pages are a summer restaurant menu in Nantucket - sold!

5.  Anything by Peter Mayle: From A Year in Provence to A Good Year, Mayle is the epitome of the food, wine and travel author.  While the books don't always go deep on the recipes and specifics, each conveys a confound sense of place that makes you want to hop a jet - stat.

6.  Boulangerie Now obviously, this is not a cookbook list (although we'll do that soon!), but I would argue that this one teeters beautifully on the edge.  It's really a treat to read (and obviously, I lean toward the francophile picks) and the photography is stunning, in addition to the great recipes toward the end.  I've tried my hand at a pretty passable baguette more than once based on this book.

7.  A Cultivated Life by Joy Sterling: A firsthand account of life at Sterling Vineyards in Sonoma and a light, fun peek at the wine industry.

8.  French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure

9.  Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: As if the world is not already familiar with this tome.

What are your favorite food-centric reads?  Which of your bookshelf selections evoke a sense of good food and good company?  I'm looking forward to your additions.

I've ranted about my love of Goodreads in a tirade called In Praise of Reader's Digest Condensed Books and Toast on my other blog, The Little Magpie - you should definitely check it out if you're not already a member.  It seems overwhelming to take on another website or social media app and to add your books at first, but it's worth it - and seeing what your nearest and dearest are reading means you'll never be at a loss on what to pick up next time you're at the book seller or library.  You can also access my list of these "Books to Devour" via Goodreads if you like.

I'll be sharing the foodie books on my "to read" list soon as well.  Looking forward to your food-fantastic selections!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Wisconsin Files

(Note: This post has been placed on both The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress blogs, because hey - sometimes things overlap.)
So, true confessions: prior to 2010, I had never set foot in or even passed through the state of Wisconsin.  I stand (rather, sit) before you chastened and convinced that Wisconsin is absolutely a must-visit state, and I've even harbored dreams of a vacation home there.  However, my husband rightly reminds me that we already know someone with a getaway in Wisconsin, so we'll select elsewhere when we start entering and subsequently win the lottery.
Also, I should offer the disclaimer (see my rants on the subject over at The Little Magpie) that I'm an enormous fan of everywhere and abhor place-bashing.  Every state is pretty amazing, and making fun of where others are from is really just bad form.  We should all visit for ourselves and still withhold judgment if we don't have anything nice to say, but I digress...
My sister is fortunate on a number of levels to date a truly and exceptionally nice guy whose family happens to have several houses on the Chain O' Lakes (yeah, that's O' Lakes, not of) clustered in and around Waupaca, Wisconsin.  For two years in a row we've ventured up on a family vacation with them in August which has numerous food and non-food related merits, not the least of which is the fact that temperatures range from the upper 60s to low 80s throughout our sojourn, while hovering in the triple digits back home in Arkansas.
I love crossing from Minnesota into Wisconsin near La Crosse over the Mississippi River - it seems like a different world after traveling all the way through Missouri and Iowa's fields of corn and wind farms.

Hello, Wisconsin! Mississippi River near La Crosse - high noon. 86 degrees.
We also stopped at Ship Rock in Adams County, a staggering remnant of retreating glacial lakes during the last stages of the Ice Age nearly 12,000 years ago.

Throughout the week, we saw Sandhill Cranes in fields around the area.  They are intriguing to me every time, both due to their size and their demeanor.  There's a neat overview of sandhills on the state of Wisconsin's environmental education website for kids.
Other advantages include access to Long Lake via a short stroll on a fern and mossy rock-lined path, leaving windows and doors open throughout our visit, complete lack of cell service and email access and just a general feeling of true escape.  The scenery is stunning: just off two of Wisconsin's scenic Rustic Roads (a cool program in and of itself; we were near Rustic Roads 23 and 24) near the intriguing 1850s Yankee township of Rural on the Crystal River, and less than a mile from Hartman State Park, home to a portion of the 1,000 mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail.  We spend the week biking, swimming, hiking, kayaking and reading.   It's heaven.

Incidentally, nearby King is the site of the Grand Army Home and Wisconsin Veterans Home.  We biked through and had a picnic on the grounds, which are really interesting.  I suspect a lot of people overlook this as a fantastic historical site on the National Register of Historic Places.  According to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King book by Kim J. Heltemes: "The Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, Wisconsin, was incorporated in 1887 by the Wisconsin Department of the Grand Army of the Republic. Initially a retirement home for Civil War veterans and their spouses, the Home slowly evolved into a health care facility as the original members aged and new veterans arrived from World War I.  Some original buildings still exist today, and the Home currently cares for approximately 800 veterans and spouses."  I was particularly intrigued by the Veterans Cottages Historic District.  We explored the entire area, and were rewarded as usual for straying off the beaten path - there is something of interest just about everywhere, including this town of approximately 835 residents.
On the foodie front, there are also a number of advantages.  We enjoyed the nearly-legendary Spotted Cow (read the grassroots story behind this nearly-legendary beer) from New Glarus Brewing Company, which is an interesting story itself - one of two craft brewing companies led by women.  We also sample a variety of selections from Central Waters Brewing Company (which makes a Glacial Trail IPA and a Mud Puppy Porter, although my favorite was the Ouisconsing Red, named for the Algonquin word for the Wisconsin River) as well as Stevens Point Brewery, established in 1857 (I liked the Belgian White).

Label from the Central Waters Brewing Company website (
We take turns preparing meals on the grill and otherwise, with the carnivores enjoying burgers and ribs and the vegetarians (ok, me) enjoying portabellas and shrimp.  We've indulged in fried cheese curds of unspeakable loveliness at Clear Water Harbor, pizza and garlic bread at the Wheelhouse, fresh Cedar Crest ice cream from Oskkosh and (I assure you) plenty more.  We have handy access to some of the best farm stands I've visited, corn fresh from the fields surrounding us, berries for snacking (and tart-making) and a great farmer's market in downtown Waupaca.

At the Wheelhouse
But oh, the cheese.  In nearby King amidst an array of cute little shops is a place called Cheesie Bob's Bleu Cheese House.  It's fairly nondescript but not to be missed.  Wisconsin is obviously known for cheese and produces nearly 600 varieties (read more about Wisconsin's cheese history), and most folks are familiar with fresh cheese curds (freshest when they are squeaky and delivered on Friday).  However, the selection at Cheesie Bob's will blow the cheese-lover's mind.  This year we were brought in by the enticing promise of morel and leek cheese (the base was jack), and we were not disappointed.  We've grabbed fresh muenster and drunken cheddar and every variety in between.  Honestly, thank goodness for the athletic endeavors of the week to offset the staggering amounts of cheese consumed.

Photo from the Wisconsin Cheese website
It's always a treat to escape to a place you're completely unfamiliar with and to explore it on your own agenda.  Here's to the not-lost art of the road trip and the family vacation!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kitchen Covet

We covered some of the things that keep me happy in the kitchen.  Now, on to the items I'm pining for as of late!

1.  This cute timer from Better Homes & Gardens with a little slot to hold a recipe card.  I know, it's cheap - I need to buy it already.  And yes, perhaps you've noticed that I'm drawn to the bold red splash around the kitchen.

2.  A pot filler.  It isn't going to happen in our current configuration or kitchen, but it's on my "Sigh.  Someday..." list. 

3.  A set of Laguiole flatware.  Best known for their craftsmanship of knives with a small bee on the handle, the Laguiole collection has always kind of rocked my world.  J'adore.

4. More of these mugs, which my sister originally bought for me from Williams Sonoma.  Unfortunately, they no longer carry them and she bought me the last four:

5.  Red Le Creuset bakeware.  Paella dishes, casseroles, you name it - I'd love to have a bunch of it.  Williams Sonoma carries it, and I have impure thoughts about it.

6.  A gorgeous new toaster that looks as though it might also be a time machine.  The likelihood of me ever purchasing a toaster with a price tag of more than two figures is exceptionally improbable, but hey - a girl can dream!

What are you wishing for to complete your culinary adventures?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Well hello, beautiful...

Garlic, capers, artichoke hearts, black olives, baby bella mushrooms, goat cheese and parmesan. Yes, please!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Favorite Kitchen Tools

I've read a few articles in trendy home magazines about people who are so chic, so uptown, so fabulous that rather than cook, they use the kitchens in their oh-so-moderne studios as additional storage.  Witness the woman who keeps sweaters neatly folded in her oven and various home gadgets in her (unplugged) fridge.  While it certainly sounds fab, let's be clear: that's never going to happen around here.

Every square inch of real estate in my kitchen is put to good use - in fact, we recently did a thoughtful resuscitation (remodel is just not the appropriate word) of our kitchen.  Watch for a thoroughly enthusiastic post on that and my dreamy pantry in the near future.  For now, I'd like to wax poetic about the specific items in my kitchen that make me happy.  You'll note I'm not going with gadgets exclusively - I love the utilitarian term tool much more because it denotes the items I use to accomplish things, whether they be happiness or a meal.  Without further ado:

1.  Hooks.  Everywhere.  For sink towels, aprons, bananas (hang one under a cabinet and get rid of that counter space hogging banana hanger), oven mitts etc.  Here's my preference, but I'll allow you to choose your own (although I'm just saying, these are the best...):

2.  Chalkboards.  We just repurposed most of our kitchen around ample chalkboards.  I'll just put this out there: I hate fridge clutter.  Disclaimer: I'm totally ok with it and nonjudgmental at your house (really!), but I hate it in mine.  And yet, I'm fine with cluttered chalkboards dripping with magnets and notes.  To each her own!  (More on the chalkboards and the entire kitchen redux soon)

3.  Storage containers.  My poor husband has grown to tolerate the fact that when I return from the store and unload all my purchases from my own produce and shopping bags (this too, he tolerates), I will immediately remove everything from its packaging and place it in my own containers just to confuse everyone.  Not really - I generally choose clear containers such as mason jars for pasta, granola bars, snacks and so forth, but I repackage it all nonetheless.  It just makes me happier.  Retro packaging?  Love it - but everything else has to be repackaged or placed out of site.

4.  The Chip Can.  All my growing up years, my Mom kept potato chips (Lay's, specifically) in a large red can on top of the fridge.  Recently, my husband remarked that we ought to do that.  God bless him.  Lo and behold, I had just the can raring to go.  I've had it for ages and hadn't thought to put it into service.  Find it below - it just so happens it holds precisely two large bags of Lay's potato chips snugly.  I think there is something immensely satisfying about making a good sandwich and putting the can of potato chips on the table.

5.  The perfect spice rack.  I love this double decker spinning spice rack my Mom found for me a few years ago.  I do have a large, separate spice storage area (more on that to come in the future), but these are my quick grab, most-frequently-used staples so it stays near my stove along with the spoons and cooking implements, but not too close due to the high temperatures.

6.  May I cheat a bit and cite my entire coffee station?  K thanks.  This station includes: my red Kitchen Aid coffee pot, post-consumer content coffee filters (I know, I need to switch to reusable) stored in a Prince Albert tobacco can that belonged to my grandfather, a coffee grinder (essential for imparting a heavenly aroma), spoons and sugar/sweetener easily accessible and a Coffeyville, KS brick because it makes me smile.  Also, please note: that's gorgeous backer board you see in the background because the tile isn't up yet in this photo.  Patience, my pretties.

7.  Measure equivalents magnet.  I married smart so I wouldn't have to be, and no matter what, I can't remember how many tablespoons make half a cup.  Granted, as you'll note if you've read my disclaimers - especially #4, I do not excel at following directions closely, but in baking it is an occasional necessity.  And I do love the baked goods.  This magnet, by the way, looks très chic on my magnetic chalkboard.

8.  A recycling bin.  Duh.  Who cooks without composting and recycling these days?  If you're holding out, stop.  Grab two inexpensive matching trash cans and don't worry about labeling - train your family.  Use a mini galvanized trash can or even an old coffee can for compost depending on what you generate, and just start, for pete's sake.  This isn't a major undertaking.  All the cool cooks are doing it.

9.  In terms of actual implements, I favor wooden spoons and J.A. Henckels knives, in case you're wondering.

10.  Last but not least, I love these drinking glasses with red lids by Luminarc.  I have a set each of the 14 and 21 ounce sizes.  They are awesome for a million different uses, from everyday drinking glasses to ferreting cold cereal in the car when I dash out the door without breakfast.  Great non-plastic storage, good for sauces, wide enough to hold large cooking spoons while stirring stovetop items etc.

What are some of the unique items or must-haves in your kitchen?  Next up is my kitchen wish list, and I'll be anxious to know what you're crushing on for cooking!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Keeping it Simple: 3 Ingredient Dishes

If you don't read Real Simple magazine, I recommend it enthusiastically.  Per my mantra, cooking should not be overwhelming.  Simplicity is essential to encourage people to spend more (er, less) time in the kitchen.

One of the things I love about Real Simple is that the magazine (and blog and website) consistently delivers articles that inspire my entire week's meals and grocery list.  A good example is this month's issue, which included this article: 53 Simple 3-Ingredient Recipes.  Sold!  In fact, Real Simple has an entire mini-campaign built around it, with readers posting and tweeting (use @RealSimpleFood and #3Ingredients) their favorite three ingredient dishes.  Awesome!  I'm waiting for the three ingredient cookbook - it's coming, right?

In fact, based on that one article, I whipped up a menu for the week that highlights many of their recommendations, with my own twists as always.  A sampling:

A dinnertime rift on the Grilled Provençal Shrimp Skewers: I marinated mine in a mix of olive oil and orange juice and topped them with an orange pepper blend I picked up at my favorite gardening and spice mecca: Planter's Seed & Spice Company in downtown Kansas City.  It's a must-visit, by the way.

As a side item, I played on their Corn and Avocado Salad, but I replaced the scallions with some fresh tomatoes - I was craving them, and the color combination was fantastic.

After a date night Friday night, we hopped up and enjoyed croissants, brie, fresh raspberries and some fantastic Bee Friendly Coffee on the porch and then set off for holiday weekend time at the lake with burgers and hot dogs (and grilled portabellas for me).

Made my version of the Pasta with Goat Cheese & Basil Oil: just a couple of slight tweaks.  I used a whole wheat rotini and instead of making the basil oil, substituted some fantastic Mediterranean Garlic Oil full of herbs from the pantry.  I did mix in the goat cheese and some fresh basil from the garden, and I served more of the oil on the side for dipping with an Italian herb focaccia from the grocery store and some fresh farmstand peaches.  Trust me, it was a fantastic summer lunch.

We'll do the neighborhood Fourth of July parade, grill lunch with friends and family and then end the day with a "snacky dinner:" caprese, salami, prosciutto and cheese... inspired by the Real Simple spread as well!

We're planning on the Glazed Salmon and Bok Choy & Pineapple Slaw, but having not found red curry paste I'll make my own with some existing ingredients from the Asian market.  Stay tuned for that debacle.  

Quesadillas are a staple Chez Stephens, so we'll do a round of chicken quesadillas and a sauteed version of the Grilled Portabella Quesadillas.

We'll round out the week with our version of breakfast tacos, inspired by "the best tacos in America" (they really are) at Taco Taco in San Antonio, Texas.  We've been making them ever since craving them after my sister attended Trinity University.  Our version: skillet potatoes, scrambled eggs, shredded cheese and salsa in fluffy homemade tortillas.  Mmmmm.  And no - for some reason, it's enough of a departure that it isn't reminiscent of our quesadillas on Wednesday night.

Your marching orders: read/subscribe to Real Simple, and try your hand at easy, three ingredient recipes.  You'll find plenty on this summary of the 3-ingredient challenge.

Oh, and be sure to stop by my fabulous friend's blog: nwaFoodie.  She just did a great post on the best food bloggers to follow in northwest Arkansas, and I was tickled to be included.  She's really the top (food) dog, and you must keep up with her blog.  As she says on her blog: Eat well, my friends.  Eat well.