Wednesday, January 2, 2019

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2018

“Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table.” - Charles Pierre Monselet 

I find that when I'm required to narrow my pondering of food-filled memories over the past year, I think of smiles, big forks, friendly toasts, and cheese. Here are some memories of the table from 2018 in no particular order:

On this day, I flew a kite, wore sequins, and dined at Hai Hai in Minneapolis. It was a very good day. So much of what they serve at Hai Hai delights with calculated splashes of lime juice and fish sauce and brings you back for more bites with delights of sun-dried shrimp and galangal. Their papaya salad is on point.

Ever heard of Colorado Style Pizza? Neither had I until I hiked Saint Mary's Glacier. As we climbed back down, I was informed by my cousins that pizza was our promised lunch, "And not just any pizza," they said, "Beau Jo's pizza!" The crust is thick, braided along the edge, and made with honey. Then they serve the pie with honey on side for dipping. Crispy pepperoni, honey crust, and giant glasses of water hit the spot after a glacier climb.

In my line of work (writing about agriculture), I sometimes have the privilege of participating in variety flavor taste tests. This year, the Cornercopia student-run organic farm at the U of MN invited guests to sample more than 80 varieties of organic, heirloom tomatoes, and vote for our favorites. If you have a chance to try a "Matt's Wild" variety of cherry tomato, do so, my friends.

I was informed by more than one Missourian that when visiting the Mizzou campus, one must stop at Buck's Ice CreamGold-colored French vanilla ice cream with dark Dutch chocolate swirls comprises their most popular and famous flavor, Tiger Stripe. After a harried morning of field tours and campus visits, a cone of Tiger Stripe had me feeling cooler and sweeter.

A salad? Yes, THIS salad. I visited Minneapolis' own Gatherings Cafe for the first time this year right before I caught a tour of Growing Lots Urban Farm. They focus on fresh, local, and indigenous ingredients, and their Harvest Salad boasts kale, sliced red onions, dried cranberries, roasted sweet potatoes, toasted pepitas, citrus honey vinaigrette, goat cheese, and shredded turkey. 

Did you know Restaurant Alma serves the most amazing cheeseburgers on Thursday nights? Well, they do, and if you can get there early and order one before they're gone, you'll be as awestruck as my main squeeze was in this pic.
Should you find yourself in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, get thee to Merchants Pub and Plate. My dining companions and I had fits about everything we ordered from their fresh, local, bistro-style menu, but the pan-seared trout and their fresh ricotta with heirloom tomatoes and fresh pesto (pictured here) sent me.

These little smoked trout cakes with stone ground mustard and clover blossom honey at The Informalist in Eau Claire are flavor bombs you won't want to share, unless you're all dolled up with your BFFs for an epic 40th birthday celebration.

Muffaletta in the Park closed after 40 years of serving fresh, locally-sourced comfort food. I had to get there one last time for their iconic beer cheese soup, famously topped with popcorn. I'll miss it!

Now it's time for some real talk. My homegirl, Liz, has been coming over to my house to learn the ins and outs of making my fruit cake recipe for the past three years. It's a long day of baking that usually includes Christmas tree chimes, football, cider, and drama. When it comes to fruitcake, we're ride or die. I love this gal, and I love this tradition. 
With a bit of encouragement from several supportive, dreamer types, (especially Chef Carrie Riggs at Restaurant Alma) I started my own little business growing edible flowers called Witch Kitchen. That I get to share in the blossoming endeavor with our 4 year-old daughter means growth aplenty, both in the garden and in the heart. 

Here are some recaps from years gone by. It appears that I forgot to do a recap last year. C'est la vie.

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

"I realized very early the power of food to evoke memory, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that." - José Andrés (bringing people together around food was interesting in 2016, especially for José Andrés)

In 2016, we made memories, felt transported by inspiration, and tasted some good bites along the way; here they are, in no particular order.

Three cheers for friends who forage and share hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (maitake). I roasted these and served them at home with fresh pesto and pasta.

We missed the Minnesota State Fair in 2016, but we danced a jig when we found fair-quality Ellsworth Creamery cheese curds at The World's Only Corn Palace in South Dakota. 17 days, 10 states, 11 farm tours, 2 weddings, 5 national parks, 10 beds, 1 camper, 1 Stetson, 1 suitcase, 1 boat of curds.
Luncheon was peachy with this freshly-picked peach during a farm tour in central Illinois.
I'll admit that I took fried lake perch for granted when I lived in Wisconsin. On a visit home, this perch platter (served up at Jim's Place in Slinger, Wisconsin) was not taken for granted.
Meritage consistently pleases in St Paul. Love was on the way with these oysters broiled with tarragon butter and breadcrumbs served up with a champagne cocktail featuring St. Germain elderflower liqueur and grapefruit bitters.
Our little poppet requested a "CHEE-BURGER" for her 2nd birthday. Hi-Lo Diner served her first-ever cheeseburger. Fortunately for us, she wanted to share bites of that ooey-gooey, beefy, cheesy goodness.

This tonkotsu 'Tonzen' ramen at Zen Box was appreciated on a bleak afternoon in February. The creamy pork bone broth, egg, pork, wakame, and beni shoga cheered my belly and my disposition.

Attending the American Swedish Institute's dinner honoring Magnus Nillson was a most excellent outing. This treat of a dish (sorrel rigatoni, roasted rabbit, morels, and pancetta - prepared by Tim McKee) was devoured by yours truly.

Brandon Jaeger and Michelle Ajamian grow and market staple seed crops in Appalachian Ohio. I was able to visit their shop, Shagbark Seed and Millwhere I acquired the best corn grits I've ever tasted.
Restaurant Alma opened a cafe in Minneapolis this year, which means Alma-quality pastries can be purchased and then consumed at home, like this rhubarb jam tart. Big ups to my gal pal, Carrie, the pastry chef behind all these goodies.

And of course, we'll never forget the best wedding cake adventure of all time: traversing a canyon in Utah in a pickup truck with three frosted cakes. "Daddy, you did it!"

Previous Year's Recaps:
[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Edible) Things: 2015

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” ― Ruth Reichl

When Gourmet Magazine closed its doors in 2009, the influential and talented Ruth Reichl continued recording her food adventures in books; years later, she's still finding satisfaction, inspiration, and a paycheck through the daily act of preparing, consuming, and discussing her endlessly delicious life. Even though an expanding career in sustainable agriculture and a small child at home afforded me less time to record/document my food-related adventures this year, my job and daughter simultaneously afforded me new edible opportunities. So while I am no Reichl, I am grateful for my endlessly delicious life.

And with that in mind, here are my favorite food-related things from 2015, in no particular order.

A trip to Portland meant dinner at Pok Pok. I rounded up a group of 12 colleagues, and the kind folks at Pok Pok graciously served us dozens of dishes at a colorful table located on a three season porch. The famous chicken wings they served up were juicy and tender, and the crispy skin was generously bathed in a glaze expertly balanced with sugar, fish sauce, and chili paste. 

A night of Portland microbrewery tours gave rise to a hankering for VooDoo Doughnuts.  While the namesake doughnut pictured here garnered the most attention from the masses, the apple fritter and the old fashioned cake doughnuts garnered the most love from my taste buds.

I planted totsoi in my garden for the first time this year, and I'm pleased to report that it's killer. Tender, succulent, and just a bit spicy, it's become my favorite green to grow at home. 

While taking a tour of the West Madison Agricultural Research Center in Wisconsin, we chanced upon a graduate student running a tomato taste test. We were lucky enough to get roped into participating in her taste test, and it was a lovely way to pass a sunny afternoon on the farm.

Two Minnesota cheese makers made big splashes this year with seemingly basic products - cheese curds and string cheese. Red Head Creamery's cheese curds are HUGE, squeaky at room temperature, and "udderly" satisfying. Lone Grazer's string cheese is hand stretched, and you can tell; it's super stringy and has a salty milkiness that keeps me running back to the co-op for more.

Revival in Minneapolis sizzled onto the scene with some of the best fried chicken I've had the pleasure of devouring. The Southern fried chicken is everything I want in fried chicken - the skin is heavily seasoned, lightly breaded, and fried to a crisp, the meat is tender and juicy, and it's served with dynamite sauces. The collard greens are a salty/sweet side that pair perfectly with the chicken, and the burger gets plenty of warranted applause with its double patty, cheese, and bacon. Don't even get me started on the pecan pie. A visit to Revival is worth the extra sit ups.

I picked this peach from a secret location in Illinois. It was sublime in a way that only a freshly picked, sun-warmed, juicy peach can be.

I had a chance to visit Charuth Van Buezekim's Dutch Girl Creamery in Nebraska this fall. She won an American Cheese Society blue ribbon for her Rosa Maria manchego-style cheese in July 2015, and now I know why. It's too legit to quit.

If you're as big a fan as I am of the Great British Bakeoff, you'll understand how one's brain becomes boggled by the bounty of pastries that exist. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a pastry chef, and who is endlessly curious about ways to combine flour, butter, and sugar. Carrie made kouign amann and I love her for it.

Should you find yourself in Ames, Iowa, The Cafe is a great choice for fresh, local food, but Vesuvius Pizza should make your short list. Their #9 signature wood-fired pizza boasts a garlic cream sauce, La Quercia prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, caramelized onions, and fresh basil. The strip mall pizza joint features a good selection of craft beer and artwork by Minneapolis's own Adam Turman. 

Never underestimate the power of a fantastic luncheon with a foxy fabricator. After a successful run as a food truck, Foxy Falafel opened a bricks and mortar restaurant in St Paul awhile back, and the cozy location proved to be memorable spot for a luncheon date complete with crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside falafel balls, lightly dressed fresh greens, beer, and sweet treats.

Our industrious and fun-loving neighbors hosted their annual "Fryfest" again this year. I brought some deep fried Vietnamese style egg rolls as an entry and won this homemade strawberry pie. 

This year, I spent most of my actual birthday on the road en route from Nebraska. This weary traveler came home to hugs, a bouquet, and a warm spaghetti dinner. Spaghetti dinner with this little gal and her dad never gets old.

Previous Year's Recaps:

[ Ed. Note: Cross-posted from Reetsyburger's Refuge: ]

[where: Sustainable Food, local food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shepherd’s Way Farms Launches Kickstarter to #GrowtheFlock

Shepherd’s Way Farms Launches Kickstarter to #GrowtheFlock

Shepherd's Way Morcella is a seasonal, soft-ripened sheep milk cheese made with morel mushrooms.

Steven and Jodi Ohlsen Read raise their dairy sheep at Shepherd’s Way Farm, just outside Northfield, an hour south of Minneapolis. Shepherd’s Way Farm is known throughout Minnesota for their award-winning, artisan, sheep’s milk cheeses like Shepherd’s Hope, Big Woods Blue, and Morcella (pictured). This week, they announced they need more room to grow, and they launched a Kickstarter campaign to reach their goal. TheirBuild the Barns, Grow the Flock" Kickstarter campaign goal is to finish a lambing barn and begin building a ewe barn that was destroyed in a fire in 2005.

“Our flock is about ⅓ the size it was before the fire,” said Shepherd’s Way cheesemaker, Jodi Ohlsen Read. “We’d like to double our current flock size. Having said that, we’re committed to sustainable growth - as we grow we’ll determine what the best size would be for us. We want to stay small-scale, and be able to make our ends meet.”

The current lamb barn at Shepherd’s Way was saved from demolition when the Reads moved the top half of it from the Big Woods State Park. They’ve been making steady progress on the barn, but it needs a new roof, electrical work, and a warming room for the lambs. They hope to raise $58,000 through Kickstarter, which would allow them to finish and winterizing the lamb barn, and start the initial construction of a barn for the ewes (adult female sheep).

“Our sheep spend much of their time outside, even in the winter if they choose,” said Steven Read in a press release. “But they need warm shelter, especially during lambing. Particularly when we have winters like last year.” Shepherd’s Way begins lambing in mid-January, and the Reads hope to start winterizing the lamb barn as soon as the Kickstarter campaign is complete.

The Kickstarter rewards include cheese, of course, along with wool filled pillows, private cheese tastings, lamb note cards, and a Spring Frolic party at the farm.

“Traditionally, a farmer would get a farm loan for building. Those opportunities aren’t as easily available as they were before the recession, especially when you’re still a growing business,” said Ohlsen Read. “The advantages of Kickstarter, aside from the funding, is that we’ll be able to draw more people who are specifically interested in what we do - it builds community, and I love that idea. I like the connection to the community.”

Ohlsen Read’s enthusiasm for community building extends beyond the Kickstarter campaign. She is currently president of the Minnesota Cheesemakers Guild, hosts regular local farm tours, and Steve and Jodi are also the Minnesota Farmers Union Enterprise Leadership Couple.  But her heart is on the farm, where she spends most of her time crafting small batch cheese. She looks forward to milking season and to growing the Shepherd’s Way flock.

“If you’re gonna be in farming, you’re gonna have some tough times, and it’ll affect you to the core,” said Ohlsen Read. “If the kickstarter doesn’t get funded, it’ll be a tough winter. It’ll take us longer to get be a truly sustainable farm, we need to produce enough milk, to make enough cheese, to make all of the ends meet.”

You can learn more about Shepherd's Way and their goals from their Kickstarter video. 

Cross posted from: Shepherd's Way Farm Makes a Kickstarter to Rebuild Flock

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Minnesota to the Core: A Complete Guide to Picking the Perfect Apple

Minnesota to the Core: A Complete Guide to Picking the Perfect Apple

Markets and farm stands are packed with stacks of fantastic apples right now, but choosing the perfect apple when you can't sample can be a bit tricky. Here's an annual roundup of information that can assist your crucial apple selection process.

Choosing Your Apple

Apple varieties have varying attributes, whether they're crisp and sweet, or juicy and sour. Some apples are perfect for packing in a lunch box (Honeycrisp, Zestar!, SweeTango, Haralson), while others are better suited for pies or apple butter (Northern Spy, Prairie Spy, Duchess).  Another attribute to consider is shelf-life; some varieties last longer in storage (Prairie Spy, Keepsake, Honeygold, Sweet Sixteen, Honeycrisp).
Here are the major Minnesota-grown varieties listed by season, in alphabetical order, along with general tasting attributes:

Early Season

  • Beacon (sweet, juicy, good eating apple)
  • Centennial Crabapple (small, juicy, great for kids)
  • Dayton (naturally disease resistant, tart, crisp)
  • Discovery (floral, sweet)
  • Duchess (good for pies)
  • Estivale (sometimes called LaCrescent, sweet, tart)
  • Gingergold (sweet, crunchy)
  • Jersey Mac (sweet, tart, good for applesauce)
  • Lodi (very early, tart, decent pie apple)
  • Paula Red (sweet, tart, bright white flesh)
  • Pristine (disease resistant, crisp, delicate)
  • Redfree (disease resistant, sweet, crisp)
  • Sansa (Gala/Akane cross, crunchy, juicy)
  • Summer Red (similar to Haralson, crisp, tart, juicy)
  • State Fair (tart, crunchy)
  • SweeTango (a personal favorite, crisp, tangy, slightly sweet)
  • Tyedeman’s Red (juicy, sweet, tart, good for apple sauce)
  • Viking (mild, soft, thin-skinned)
  • Wellington (tart, early pie apple)
  • William’s Pride (disease resistant, slightly spicy, bold)
  • Zestar! (large, crunchy, sweet-tart)


  • Chestnut Crabapple (nutty, smaller, good for sauce)
  • Cortland (bright white flesh, doesn’t brown as quickly, great for fruit salad)
  • Gala (sweet, crisp, yellowish flesh)
  • Honeycrisp (a personal favorite, well balanced, sweet, tangy, crisp, very popular)
  • McIntosh (very tart, juicy, very popular)
  • Red Baron (mild, sweet, juicy)
  • Sweet Sixteen (sticky sweet, crisp, juicy, yellow flesh)
  • Wealthy (tart, medium sized)

Late Season

  • Braeburn (sweet, tart, classic)
  • Fireside (sweet, large, good for baking)
  • Frostbite (very sweet, smaller, juicy)
  • Honeygold (yellow skin, good for cooking, sweet)
  • Haralson (firm, good pie apple, sweet)
  • Keepsake (firm, crisp, yellowish flesh, can store for six months)
  • Liberty (disease resistant, tart, crisp)
  • Northern Spy (tart, juicy, great for pies and sauce)
  • Pinata (orange in color, slightly spicy)
  • Prairie Spy (large, dense, good for baking, long storage time)
  • Red Delicious (very popular, firm, dark red, sweet)
  • Regent (well balanced, good for eating and cooking)
  • SnowSweet (a personal favorite, sweet, slightly tart, white flesh is slow to brown)

Pick Your Apple

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has a list of 116 apple orchards on their website this year. You can search by zip code to find an orchard close to you.
If you’re looking for a referral, some of the most beloved orchards include:
No time for apple picking? Check your local farmers market, which is a perfect weekend outing this time of the year. Doug Bolstorff’s Cedar Grove Orchard stand at the downtown St Paul Farmers Market is a personal favorite. They have good apples, decent prices, and friendly service. Don't miss the Sweetland Orchard stand at the Kingfield Farmers Market where they sell fantastic apple cider donuts. Finally, if you can't make it to the orchard or farmers market, local co-ops can fill your basket with local apples from local organic orchards. Do you research, fill your basket, and when you get home you can sit back and relax knowing you've selected the perfect Minnesota apple.

Cross posted from: Minnesota to the Core: A Complete Guide to Picking the Perfect Apple

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Alemar Cheese Company Wows with Blue Earth Brie and Red Ribbons

Alemar Cheese Company Wows with Blue Earth Brie and Red Ribbons

In tandem with winning a red ribbon at the 2014 American Cheese Society (ACS) contest for their camembert-style cheese, Bent River, Alemar Cheese Company has recently released a new brie-style cheese called Blue Earth. Mankato is the county seat of Blue Earth County and Alemar’s new brie-style cheese reflects its connection to Minnesota’s terrain with its formula based on 100 percent organic, grass-based milk from Minnesota farms like Cedar Summit Farm.

“I’ve been making cheese for 6 years,” said Keith Adams of Alemar Cheese. “And I think I’m getting pretty proficient at soft rind cheeses. I knew that Bent River [camembert] might have some notes that might not appeal to all consumers. For the Blue Earth [brie], we toyed with some of the cultures and the aging process until we got something really great.”

The recipes and techniques Adams uses to make Blue Earth are similar to those that he uses for Bent River, and so Blue Earth has many similarities to Bent River. But it’s different...As with any brie, it’s bigger and runnier, for starters. It’s slightly buttery, with a mild flavor, and utterly unctuous texture.

Blue Earth is relatively new, and subject to availability, but retail locations include Seward Co-op, The Wedge, Saint Louis Park Byerly's, and Grassroots Gourmet.

If you want to congratulate Adams on his new cheese and his ACS ribbon, you’d better do it quickly—after a trip to England this summer to learn about Stichelton (similar to Stilton) and bandage-wrapped cheddar, he’s heading back to his home state of California to start an English-inspired cheese project in the Sonoma county area. But fear not, Bent River and Blue Earth will continue to be made by Craig Hageman, who will be running the Alemar plant in Mankota.

Cross posted from: Alemar Cheese Company Wows with Blue Earth Brie and Red Ribbons

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]

Cultivate Northeast Builds Communities


Cultivate Northeast Builds Communities

Two new brightly colored garden-themed murals have staked their claim on the southeast corner of Central and Lowry Aves NE, the third busiest intersection in Minneapolis. The murals are the work of Northeast artists, and the budding garden they currently shelter is a new permaculture demonstration garden called Cultivate Northeast.

Coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgrem, the term “permaculture” is an ideology that models habitats and agricultural systems on natural ecosystems. From food production to landscape restoration, from composting and harvesting rainwater to engaging with the community, urban permaculture gardens like Cultivate Northeast can produce food while providing educational and community-building opportunities.

Chowgirls co-owner Heidi Andermack talked about the community approach to the development of the permaculture garden and the Cultivate Northeast concept. Initiated by Minneapolis City Council Member Kevin Reich, Cultivate Northeast was brought to life by area author Joel Hernandez, Tom and Colleen of Tom’s Styling, Northeast Chamber of Commerce Director Christine Levins, and Andermack.

Hailing from Bruce Bacon’s Garden Farme in Anoka, permaculture specialist Benji Mohr weeds, harvests, lays down woodchips, and manages the day-to-day operations of the garden, raising produce for the kitchens of Chowgirls, Hazel’s NortheastThe Mill Northeast, and Sen Yai Sen Lek. Adjacent business owners, Tom and Colleen of “Tom’s Style and Tanning” have provided space and water for the garden.
Joe Hatch-Surisook
“I’m always interested in community projects and love the idea of having our food produced so close to home,” said Andermack. “We had toyed with the idea with getting some land about 45 minutes away for Chowgirls, and we realized that wasn’t very realistic in terms of resources. This was a great opportunity to start something on a small scale.”

A pergola, benches, and two colorful murals by local artists Chank Diesel and Mike Davis helped transform the garden into a community space. The garden is open to the public; Andermack said folks are welcome to wander through the garden, take photos, sit on the benches, and enjoy the space, although they prefer that you leave the produce where it is.

“We’re hoping that folks will enjoy the space, be happy with what we’re doing there, and allow us to continue in the future,” said Andermack.

Cultivate NE hosted weekly cooking demonstrations and speakers in fall 2014. They plan to do more programming and have more information available at the garden next year.

“The coolest thing about the project in my mind is that everyone involved is doing their best to contribute to the garden while taking care of their work and their families,” said Andermack. “It’s a little oasis in the 3rd busiest intersection in Minneapolis.”

Want to learn more about the permaculture concept being implemented at Cultivate Northeast? Check out Midwest Permaculture Cold Climate for more information.

Cross posted from:

[where: Sustainable Food, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]