welcome, fall.

back when we lived in new york, by the time fall came, i craved it. the nights were sultry and the pavement was hot. under ground, where soil is supposed to be cool and damp, instead was multiplied in temperature. i took more showers than is reasonable. and when fall came–late, usually, later than in minnesota–the cold air was more than welcome.

in minnesota, our summers are less forthright. as indirect as Minnesota Nice, sunshine enters slowly in the north, and we don’t tire of it easily. thunderstorms are dramatic and unyielding. humidity is blessedly thick. and the nights are cool, filled with cricket song.

so you’ll forgive me when i say that i haven’t been greeting summer’s end with the eagerness i used to. it used to signify a return to my studies; brand new classes and the promise of a better, more informed me by the end of december. this year, fall signifies B’s return to med school, and the subsequent loss of his time and his energy. my work provides some cyclical excitement, but politics in this election season offers more tearing down of community than thoughtfully considering the future of our nation and our people.

i had imagined summer to be a time of recharging. time with friends and family, time to check things off my “bucket list”, time to enjoy B and his last-summer-off hurrah. i did some of those things. but as i’m learning must often happen in life, some of those things didn’t happen. more than anything, i found myself lacking in time to care for myself: to write, to read, to play my guitar (which i don’t play well, but i do enjoy pulling out now and again), to sleep, to walk, to talk, to cook, to eat. i did invest time in those i care about (but not as much as i wanted), and i took up a new, valuable hobby that is good for my body (aerial arts).

still, today was the first day in a long time that i was able to actively relax. i slept in, spent time with B, went to the farmer’s market, worked on my potted garden, watched a little tv, and made dinner. a GOOD dinner, one that consisted mostly of vegetables and took me longer than 30 minutes to cook. heck–one that i cooked MYSELF.

stuffed baby eggplants, bought at the farmer’s market. based off this recipe, i stuffed them with wild rice, brussel sprouts, onion, chicken, feta cheese, mushrooms, apples, and a dollop of butter for good measure.

they were good. they were REALLY good.

i bought one fuzzy pink flower at the market, and picked some wild prairie flowers down by the mississippi, near our apartment. we set them on the table as we ate.

and capped the meal off with a glass of whiskey.

okay. NOW i’m ready for fall.


popcorn magic

this is midterm week in our little minneapolis household. that means a few things: 1) i have a lot more free time, 2) B has a lot more stress, and 3) we both get to eat WHATEVER WE WANT. hallelujah!

so last week i posted about winter olympic snacks, and featured my one successful contribution to the party: “white chocolate snowflakes,” i.e., white chocolate truffled popcorn! so good.

the inspiration came from one time that i went out for drinks with mandi. we ordered truffled popcorn, and it was good: buttery, sugary, garlicky. so i searched for “truffled popcorn” and found, instead of a recipe, a video of how to make it–but without specific amounts and instructions. so, i kind of made it up as i went. the first time, when i made it for our olympics party, it was not perfect. i had too much white-chocolate-to-butter ratio, so i added cream, and the chocolate hardened again. thus, the chocolate was clumpy on the popcorn… but heck. how bad can it be?!

so. first things first: pop the popcorn, a nice big bowl of it, for about 3-5 people. i’m not going to tell you how to do this, because if you don’t know, 1) you are silly, and 2) i think you can find out for yourself.

i used about 3 ounces of white chocolate (not quite a full bar of a ghirardelli chocolate baking bar) to 4-5 tablespoons of melted butter.

i’ve said it before, i’m sure i’ll say it again: butter makes everything better. butter is a goddess. i could eat it deep-fried off a stick.

when the butter is (almost/all) melted, add the white chocolate over medium heat and whisk. remove from heat as soon as it is creamy and pour it slowly over the popcorn. toss the popcorn as you go, stopping if you need to, but take care not to allow the chocolate to harden again. if it does… well, it’s not really that big a deal. it will be more clumpy, but it will still be very very tasty. i promise.

you COULD just stop there, if you like things sweet and only sweet. but just as in real life, what good is sweetness unless it is contrasted against the tart? so i added about 1- 2 tablespoons of sea salt, to taste. more or less depending on how you like your sweet and savory.

allow it to cool a little before serving, or it will be sticky. serve with plenty of napkins. ALSO: i can attest that even day-old white chocolate truffled popcorn, which has sat out on the countertop overnight, is still amazing. happy snacking, and for all you students out there: happy midterms!

(PS: aren’t the variations on this recipe endless?! think of it: dark chocolate, salt, and pistachios! white chocolate, nutmeg, and clove! butter! butter! butter! any other popcorn brainstormers out there?)

I’m naming my first kid Polenta

Inspired by a variety of fancy restaurants that have lately included polenta on their menus, I decided to try my hand at this cornmealy… stuff.

You make it a lot like you do rice, quinoa, risotto, and other grains: boil water, add grain, lower to a simmer, and cook and stir.

Only in the recipe I used, once you’ve lowered it to a simmer, you get to add a bunch of tasty stuff, much like risotto or mexican arroz con leche (which I’m also dying to make asap). I added parmesan cheese, fennel, and butter. OMG, butter makes everything better, which I feel is also sometimes the mantra of my friend Leslie.

Do you SEE this BUTTER? Oh god, I love butter so much, sometimes I think I could eat a stick of it like an ice cream cone.

Moving on.

The polenta was served with a very simple, very easy, fast broccoli rabe. I’ve made it tons of times before, always with garlic and red pepper, but the recipe also called for SALT. it never occured to me to add salt to bitter broccoli rabe before. it made a huge difference. i wonder also what a little lemon zest might do next time…

The only problem with the polenta experiment that there was not enough for a full-sized meal. I don’t know what I was thinking making this our entire meal, but that bit there is smaller than the size of my fist. Hardly a good (American) dinner.

Nevertheless, it was delicious. Polenta, you come on over anytime. I like you so much, maybe I’ll name my firstborn after you. Or at least my next cat.