Summer is here!

Hello again! Did you all miss me? It has been a LONG time since I’ve written. There are many reasons I took a break, but I won’t bore you all with details. Here’s the short of it. First, I wrote a post back in April, which got erased. I pouted, went to bed and wrote it again a week or so later. Guess what? Erased again! I stomped up the stairs and swore I’d never write again. It was a good post. Maybe I’ll get around to it again someday. Second, I got sick. For a month. I realized I had worn myself out and I needed to get back to normal. Looking back on the last 10 months, I finally resigned myself to the fact that raising four boys is EXHAUSTING and I can’t do it all. Yes, I just said that. I have been reflecting on the things I truly love and here they are (there are many more, but like I said, I can’t do it all):

  • Family
  • Gardening
  • Food
  • Exploring

When I ended the Dark Days Challenge, I didn’t know where my blog would go. I’ve decided to write about more than just food and I’m using the summer month as a launch. This is the first summer as a stay-at-home mom and I’m going full force. I can’t wait to spend time with my boys, garden, grow food, shop for food, cook food, eat food, and explore new things along the way. These things will most likely meld together, and here’s an example.

Son #3 and our friend enjoying the spectacular view from the Mill City Farmers Market. It was a beautiful morning and a great way to enjoy our breakfast.

My dear friend who writes Walnuts and Pears texted me at 6 am on Saturday morning. She was heading to the Mill City Farmers Market and was wondering what I was up to. She had never been and wanted to check it out. I usually head to this market once a season, mostly for shopping. I don’t buy a lot of produce there, but it is always fun to go. We made a plan and met at the market, since I was bringing my mom and Sons #3 and #4 and she was bringing her son and her mom.

What a fun market! One of my goals this summer is to try new foods and recipes. The Mill City market has a great way to do just that. Upon arrival, we picked up a recipe card with the ingredients and the vendors listed. I chose to grab ingredients for the Prairie Mushroom Risotto. I purchased the wild rice (the real kind, not the cultivated kind we are used to seeing in stores). This was my new ingredient. I also bought shitake mushrooms and sugar snap peas.

Then we came upon the food trucks. Another one of my goals for the summer. I want to hit as many food trucks as we can. Although I’ve eaten at Chef Shack before, it is worth the repeat. We shared an order of french toast with bacon brats and it was amazing (because it had bacon in it). My friend’s son also shared the mini doughnuts with Son #3. They smelled pretty darn good, but I never got to try one.

A view of the Mill City Farmers Market, located next to the Guthrie Theater. Take a look at the bamboo tepees in the planters. A great idea for next year!

After some gardening at the community garden I coordinate, I gardened a bit at home. As I planted, I came up with a meal plan. We had the Prairie Mushroom Risotto with bacon-wrapped filets from our freezer and sugar snap peas with minted butter. I could write a long time about how much I love fresh sugar snap peas, but I’ll save that for another post. This is getting too long!

Mushroom risotto, loved by all four boys will be a repeat. I adapted the recipe a bit by cutting down the amount of mushrooms and adding more of the wild rice. It also made great leftovers.

So here’s what you can expect from me. I’ll be heading to more markets with my friend from Walnuts and Pears. We’ve agreed to link our blogs and compare our thoughts. I’ll be posting about food I’m growing, what I’m cooking with my food and my CSA share, and writing about our many explorations and adventures. Hooray for summer!


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Barefoot in March

Son #2 showing off his muddy hands in the middle of March. We are loving this gift of amazing weather.

As a Minnesotan, I am obsessed with weather. It is who we are. I think it comes from being cold for 6 months of the year and waiting for a beautiful day. We Minnesotans know how to enjoy ourselves once the nice weather arrives. What a strange March we are in! It is basketball tournament time, and normally we brace ourselves for a blizzard. This year in this week of 70 degree weather, we are grilling and bike riding and walking and going to parks and eating outside. I’m doing all I can to restrain myself from planting my entire garden. I have decided I’ll allow myself to plant some lettuce, just to see what happens. If a cold snap ruins them, I won’t be too upset. But if I have lettuce in April, it will be amazing!

Seriously, I could go on and on about this weather. We are all in awe here. I’ve been walking around barefoot and eating in my yard with Son #3 who is enamoured with the idea of eating outside and wants to invite everyone he knows to have a picnic with him. The strangest part of the weather was picking up my last box of veggies from my winter CSA while wearing a tank top, shorts and flip-flops. Who wants to eat turnips and rutabagas when it is 75 degrees? Not this girl.

Then St. Patrick’s Day arrives. We reached an all-time record of 80 degrees. I ran a 7k race in a t-shirt and shorts and was sweating. I had decided to combine a local food meal with St. Patrick’s Day. I came across a recipe for Colcannon and realized I could make it with all local ingredients. Before I made it, I sent a message to my only “real” Irish friend and asked her 1) is Colcannon a traditional Irish meal? and 2) would it be strange to add ham? She confirmed it was truly Irish, but her mom didn’t ever make it, and yes, I could add ham if it was to be the main dish.

My version of Colcannon for St. Patrick's Day. Some recipes call for kale, but I had cabbage available locally.

Speaking of ham. I don’t eat ham. I haven’t liked it since I was about 12 years old. So when I called my mom and said “I have a funny question for you. How do I bake a ham?” She laughed pretty hard, not because I had to ask her, but because I was actually considering making it. The ham came in a recent meat combo pack I bought from a local farm. I usually give the ham away, but thought this would be a good way to try it. Guess what? It was pretty darn good. And so was the Colcannon. This link is similar to how I made it, but I sautéed cabbage and a diced onion instead of boiling the cabbage. I also cut down the amount of butter and used some cream with the milk. It was a hit with half of the family. Son #4 enjoyed the mashed potato part. He’s become somewhat of an eating machine in the last two weeks. Son #1 loved it, and Sons 2 and 3 mostly cried about having to eat it (except for the ham).

Our homemade Shamrock Shake. It may become a St. Patrick's Day tradition around here.

After the traditional part of the meal was over, I decided an American take on St. Patrick’s Day would be fun. Who doesn’t love a Shamrock Shake? I made homemade shakes with vanilla ice cream, milk, a dash of mint extract, and a couple drops of green food coloring. I’ll never purchase a Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s again. This was so much better! Plus I think the new fake whipped cream and cherry thing just ruins it.

Anyway, a belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all. Get out there and enjoy our early bit of summer. It only comes around about every 120 years in Minnesota.

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Blue Cake, one year later

Son #4 at 6 days old

I sat down to write a post about food, but realized it is just over a year since I started writing Woo-Hoo Tofu. So instead, I’ve decided to reflect on our year. What a year it has been. Looking back on my posts from a year ago brought me to my “Blue Cake, Anyone?” post. This was my most viewed post of all time because it was the big reveal of our fourth boy. Reading it again made me think about what a miracle each baby is. To think that almost exactly a year ago, there he was, this tiny being who did not have a name, but was growing and waiting to make his appearance.

Son #4 completes our family. He has dark brown eyes that look just like his daddy’s. Our other boys have hazel, green and blue eyes. I love to joke that it took four tries to have a baby that takes after dad. He is mellow most of the day, but can out-yell any of his brothers when he wants to be heard. He was the least fussy newborn of all my boys, but also the most attached to me. While his brothers hit developmental marks within days of each other, this guy has his own timeline. He just got his first tooth this week, at 7 months, compared to the 5 months of all his brothers. He didn’t sit up as early and he’s just starting to love food. Avocados were a huge hit tonight (here’s my food mention). His whole face lights up when he smiles, especially when I sing to him. I love watching the older boys interact with him. They are loving and helpful, but things are getting interesting now that Son #4 is rolling across the floor. This past week after the baby rolled over to the trains our 2-year was playing with, Son #3 told me “Put him on the couch. He is annoying me. Look what he did!”

At 6 months old, and looking just like dad.

Besides adding another member to our family, this year has been full of changes. We had to sell a car and buy a mini-van, I resigned from my job, my husband changed jobs, Son #2 started Kindergarten, and Son #1 was diagnosed with ADD. Overall, we are busy, happy, and extremely blessed. I am grateful to have all these boys to share adventures with. There are many more adventures to come.

As far as Woo-Hoo Tofu is concerned, I’ve noticed I’m becoming more long-winded. The Dark Days Challenge has been a great experience and my blog has evolved into something I wasn’t expecting. I’m excited to see where the next year leads me. Thanks for reading – I hope you’ve enjoyed my rambling.

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Crazy for Chicken

Buying local can be tough. It can also be easy, once you know where to look. Thankfully, people are happy to share resources when they find something great. This happened recently when a mom from my sons’ school posted information about local chickens. I promptly looked up the website and decided to give the quarterly delivery a try. The farm delivers chickens by the box of twelve, and they are $1.25 per pound cheaper than the chicken I buy at the co-op. That saves me $4 to $5 per chicken! I split the box with my mom and a neighbor, keeping six chickens for myself. The tough part was the drive to pick up the box, but it was worth it.

If you are in the Twin Cities area, I highly recommend the chickens from Finca Mirasol. You are supporting a local family farm while getting delicious chicken. The farmers recently lost their home in a fire and appreciate every order they receive. I find it more difficult to buy meat at the grocery store anymore. Knowing where my meat comes from gives me peace of mind and I love meeting the farmers.

While my family is becoming tiresome of roasted chicken and vegetables, I find myself looking forward to making stock. I have been experimenting with various spice and whatever vegetables I have on hand. I love that I can make enough stock to cover the entire cost of the chicken. I also adore the roasted vegetables. I can be found in the kitchen eating the veggies while I pack them up for leftovers. It is possible that more end up eaten than saved.  The chicken stock fuels my soup obsession. My boys complained about all the soup I’ve been making, until the day I made Chicken Wild Rice soup. Son #2 loved it so much, I’ve made it twice in a month. I use leftover chicken instead of ham in my recipe, and don’t have sherry on hand. Recent thermos purchases have made it possible for the boys to bring soup to school for lunch and they are loving the variety.

Cheesy Chicken Soup, recipe courtesy of Mom

Another roasted chicken and vegetables, with rosemary and balsamic vinegar. Yum!

For my local food recipe, I realized I could make a soup that my mom has been making for 30 years. It has always been a favorite of mine and consists of butter, flour, grated carrots, chopped onion, chopped chicken, milk, chicken broth and cheese. I don’t use a recipe anymore. My mom taught me the recipe and I just eye the ingredients now. It brings me back to my childhood, but the boys aren’t big fans. They ate it because it was what was served. Son #2 didn’t ask me about it like the wild rice soup.

We celebrated another half birthday recently. Son #2 is now 9 1/2, and it terrifies me that he will be 10 in less than six months. How did that happen? Double digits!?! He had a great time bowling with friends, minus a bit of a meltdown when he didn’t bowl as well as he expected. They had pizza after bowling, and I had enough time to make his cake from scratch (sorry again, Son #2).

9 1/2 years old!

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Happy Valentine’s Day

This year, for our 12th Valentine’s Day together, my husband asked me the standard question. “Should we go out somewhere?” This stems from a long ago Valentine’s Day when I was pregnant with Son #1. On that day, I made a gift, baked a cake and waited for my husband to return home from work. Unfortunately, he didn’t know I was expecting a gift and dinner reservations. Even more unfortunate for him, my pregnancy hormones got the best of me and I spent the whole night crying. I clearly remember tears streaming down my face as the server took my order and saying “I’m sorry. I’m pregnant.” I can only imagine what that poor server was thinking. If anyone watched SNL recently, Zooey Deschanel sang a song which I joked was about us

One year later, my wonderful husband, still traumatized from my crying, planned the best Valentine’s night ever. He made hotel reservations, had dinner ready in our room, brought candles, wine, dessert and gave me a running jacket that I still wear. Flash forward ten years and three more boys, and Valentine’s Day is a completely different story. Our new tradition is to make dinner together after the boys are in bed. I think my husband asks me about going out just as a precaution. While family dinner is a priority, this is the one dinner a year where we set aside time to eat together without the boys. The peace and quiet is heavenly. Have you ever eaten with four boys, ages 9, 6, 2, and 6 months? Earplugs are strongly advised.

I was feeling a bit guilty about the $0.89 box of mac and cheese I was feeding the boys for dinner and decided they deserved something fancy. I cut their cucumbers and strawberries into heart shapes in honor of Valentine’s Day. I rarely make boxed mac and cheese, so they were thrilled. We went on to eat salad with goat cheese, stuffed pork tenderloin, asparagus, twice baked potatoes and dessert. We cook from a book called Dinner Dates by Martha Cotton, which gives directions for Chef One and Chef Two. I don’t think it is published anymore, but if you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.

Valentine's dinner for the boys.

On the local food front, I made Beans and Sausage one night when my husband was working late. I don’t think he ever got to try the recipe. I ate all the leftovers before he had the chance. I found the recipe hearty and comforting, and could have eaten it all week. Still on the cooked carrot aversion, the boys ate the beans pretty well and Son #3 kept asking for “more hot dogs”. I’d definitely make the recipe again. I only had to substitute onions for shallots, and left out the parsley. The white vegetables in the photo are daikon radishes. We got them in our CSA box and thought it would be a great way to use them. I think they were a nice addition.

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Almost Local

We are past the halfway mark of the Dark Days Challenge. How is it going? Buying local is becoming a habit for me. The challenge seems more like a routine and I’m easily finding recipes that work with ingredients available. It has taken some research to gather resources, but I feel more comfortable and know where to go for specific foods. Buying for one entirely local meal a week means that I’m making a lot of “almost local” meals with the ingredients I’m purchasing. These are meals that have all local ingredients with one or two exceptions.

My boys don’t know the difference and have no idea that our meat is coming from people who recognize my name when I place my order. They don’t know the conversation I had with the “honey guy” about the health benefits of honey or the son of the beef farmer who told me about the time he tried to become a vegetarian. They are passionate about what they do and I’m supporting people who live near me, instead of a big corporation. On a recent trip to the Farmer’s market, I was told I bought the very last package of short ribs and that they are busier than ever.

The boys are also surprising me with what they are eating. For one recent meal, I made a Cheddar Apple Frittata, which I came across in Everyday Food. I was excited to find that all the ingredients were available locally, but wasn’t sure if the boys would eat it. I’ve made frittata with vegetables before and the boys ate it fairly willingly. Using apples seemed risky. I don’t think it was their favorite meal, but we didn’t have leftovers.

On the vegetable front, the boys are definitely expanding their horizons. Son #2 prefers rutabagas over carrots. Son #3 likes turnips. They definitely have their opinions and favorites when I roast chicken with vegetables. Why don’t kids like cooked carrots? Is it an acquired taste? I keep trying, but can’t get any of the boys to like carrots in any form except raw. A new dish for all of us was celeriac gratin. We got the celery root from the CSA share, along with the suggested recipe. Sons #1 and #2 ate it and liked it, but Son #3 wouldn’t touch it.

Celeriac Gratin

1-1/2 lbs celeriac, cubed in one inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tbsp flour
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or thyme
1 cup grated parmesan
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
2 cloves minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Boil the celeriac cubes for about five minutes, until fork tender. Drain. Butter a 5 x 9 baking dish. Melt the butter and add the flour cook until flour browns, add the stock and stir until thickened, Combine the cream,and garlic with the stock and bring the mixture just to a boil. Pour over the celeriac. salt and pepper and top with cheese. Cover and bake for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 20 minutes or so, until browned.

We’ve welcomed another eater in the family. Son #4 has graduated to cereal and various pureed foods. The squash from our CSA share is coming in handy. I’ve cooked a big batch and froze it in ice cube trays. He’s doing well and it is getting fun introducing him to new foods. I’m hoping he is as easy as his older brothers have been to feed.

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Make it or buy it?

Our latest challenge for Dark Days was to make a dessert made of local ingredients. I knew this would be a tough week for me. First of all, I think of myself as a cook, not a baker. Secondly, sugar is not local and fruit is not in season. I searched for recipes, looking for desserts with honey. I also considered using the rest of my strawberries in the freezer that we picked this past summer. I finally landed on Honey Lavender Ice Cream because it didn’t have sugar and I could get all the ingredients locally, with the exception of salt and the lavender flowers (although I could have grown the lavender).

I’ve never made ice cream before. My only memory of homemade ice cream is from when I was five years old and my parents making ice cream on our porch. My memory is of the wooden ice cream maker spinning the ice and salt.  I don’t really remember the ice cream itself and the ice cream maker didn’t make many appearances after that. This is noteworthy because I’m debating the “make it or buy it” aspect of food. There is a book I’ve been meaning to read called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, which talks about what the author believes is worth making at home and what you should buy.

This is what I had to do to make my pint of ice cream. I borrowed an ice cream maker, learned to use the ice cream maker, shopped at four different stores to collect my ingredients, and finally proceeded to follow the recipe, which ended up spanning two days. I was pretty grumpy as I began making the ice cream, but the aroma and the color of the ice cream mixture changed my mind by the end of the first night. I began dreaming of other flavors I could try. The result? The lavender was a bit overpowering and the honey made it a bit too sweet. However, the texture was unbelievable. It was creamy and perfect, and I couldn’t stop eating it even though the flavor wasn’t just right. With some adjustments, I think it could be amazing.

Make it or buy it? After all the time spent, I’ll be heading to my favorite ice cream place, Pumphouse Creamery for most of my ice cream cravings. However, I think I will try making more flavors in the future, even if it is time-consuming. Even as I type, the creamy texture is making my mouth water.

In other news at our house, we are celebrating half birthdays. While this is not our normal practice, the older boys did not get birthday parties last summer. We celebrated the birth of Son #4 three days before Son #2’s birthday, six days before Son #3’s birthday, and nineteen days before Son #1’s birthday. Half birthdays seemed like the best solution. Son #2 got the first party and we celebrated with a couple of his friends with a pizza lunch and 3-D movie. I decided to make half of a cake and use 6 candles, with an extra candle shoved in further to represent the half year. My favorite moment was when my boys were telling their friends “My mom makes the BEST cake”. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I made my first cake from a mix in over six years. It reminded me why I don’t make cake from mixes, but my boys didn’t know the difference. I still made it for them and that is all that matters.

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