Quite Selfish

I knew I would be excited about the first eggs Roz, MaryAnne and Susie would lay. I knew I’d treasure them. And prepare them carefully. And savor every bite. But I didn’t know I’d become so protective over them that I’d actually turn into a person who’s quite selfish.

IMG_3011

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been sharing my eggs. Over the holidays, I cooked up lots of fresh breakfasts for family and friends who came to visit. When I was down to just one egg from my chickens, I gave it to my best friend and fried a free-range, organic grocery store breakfast for myself.

Egg comparison

The grocery store egg is on the left, the one from my coop is on the right. Tonya was delighted with the sunset orange yolk contained in the petite egg. Her appreciation for it made me beam.

But when it came to the idea of actually giving my eggs away, I just couldn’t do it. Friends and co-workers keep asking when their egg delivery is coming. I reply, “soon, soon!”

All the while, I’m hoarding a dozen at home and carefully planning how I’ll use them. When I fry, poach or scramble them, I watch the pan like I hawk to made sure the end result is just right. There’s something about knowing the animals who are producing your food that makes you want to treat their eggs or meat or milk with the utmost respect. Waste is not an option.

But the girls are producing eggs at a fabulous rate. Most days there are two gloriously colorful eggs to be found in the nesting boxes. Occasionally, three are discovered.

Compare the eggs

My eggs vs. co-op eggs

The eggs are also getting bigger. Compare the backyard eggs on the left to the large eggs from my local co-op on the right.

Supply is good. Taste is great. I decided it’s time. I need to release control. And just give some of these eggs away.

Small egg cartons

I utilized some of my holiday wrapping to put together lovely four packs of eggs. I’ve been saving cartons from the grocery store for months and cut them into thirds. Carefully making sure each small carton contains a variety of colors, I placed the eggs inside and closed the top.

Egg wrapping supplies

Stamp

Tied with Twine

I tied the packages with twine and used a stamp and a tag to decorate the outside.

When my lovely friend Stephanie March (who also happens to be the ridiculously talented food and dining editor for Mpls-St. Paul Magazine) asked me to fill in as co-host of her food-focused radio show this weekend, I knew I had to bring a special treat to her.

Egg gift pack

She shrieked with happiness when I delivered her package of eggs. As she gazed at the carton and peeked at the colors of the eggshells inside, I knew the ideas of how she’d enjoy them were running through her head.

Egg packages

What had I been waiting for? Sharing my prized eggs is as enjoyable as eating them myself!

Egg packages 2

Well, almost.

 

 

Add a Little of Something, or Sub This for That

Confidence in the kitchen leads to beautifully delicious things. You create a satisfying dish. You serve it to family and friends. They rave. You beam. Confidence boosted. Next meal. You recall your previous success. This time you feel free to add a little of something, or sub this for that, in the recipe that already delighted taste buds and tummies. Lo and behold, the next version is even better than the one before.

Such is the case with the evolution of my Tex-Mex Frittata. I made this at my day job last January. But the basic idea of an egg bake packed with vegetables, bits of flavorful meat and creamy cheese is a weekend staple at my house. I often whip one up on a Saturday morning. It’s delicious piping hot or at room temperature and the leftovers are good any time of day well into the work week.

My latest version is now officially called a Mexican Frittata Española. So named by me. Just today.

It’s so called because it incorporates the basic frittata structure. A vegetable and meat mixture is sauteed.

Beaten eggs are poured and swirled into the pan. It’s baked in a hot oven until puffy and ready to slice into wedges.

The Spanish version of this dish is called a Tortilla Española and contains potatoes, as does mine.

And because a life without avocado, cilantro and sour cream is not a life worth living, Mexican flavors seal the deal.

A couple of notes to ensure your success:

Be sure to use Mexican chorizo instead of Spanish for this recipe. And buy a good-quality chorizo. It’s flavorful and indulgent without being too greasy.

Despite my best efforts to Can the Cans, I haven’t found chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in anything but tin. Until I start making my own, I store the leftover can contents in a mason jar in my fridge. They last for months.

Finally, and most importantly: once you pull the piping hot frittata from the oven, under no circumstances should you remove the oven mitt from your hand until that hot egg bake is safe on the platter and the pan is sitting in the sink. If you remove the mitt, you will forget the pan you usually grab by the handle with a bare paw is as hot as fire. You will, for some unknown reason, want to relocate the pan. You will wrap your fingers around the blazing spear of metal and you will shout expletives profusely as you rip your hand from the source of intense pain. The people you are serving will cower in fear.

Your plate of breakfast will still taste amazing, but you will delight slightly less in it because of the throbbing and burning fury still happening throughout your hands and fingers.

Not that I’ve ever done this before.

That being said, make this. Love it. Build confidence. Get back in the kitchen.

***

Mexican Frittata Española

serves 6-8

Use this:

1/2 lb. Mexican chorizo

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

2 lbs (about 4-5 medium) Yukon Gold or red potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick

1 tbsp canola oil

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cup cooked black beans (one can, rinsed and drained)

2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

12 eggs beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese

salt and pepper

Top This:

with any or all of the above: fresh cilantro, sour cream, avocado, salsa and hot sauce

Do this:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 12-14 inch, nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and break up with a wooden spoon. After about 5 minutes, when chorizo is cooked through, remove crumbles from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add onion to pan and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes and canola oil and turn slices to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until a knife can go smoothly through the potato slices, but they are not mushy.

Add spinach, beans, tomatoes and chorizo to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Fold until all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Pour eggs over mixture. Swirl pan and lift potatoes with a spatula so the eggs slide between the layers of potatoes. Press mixture down into the eggs.

Top with grated cheese and put pan into the oven. Bake frittata for 15-20 minutes, until eggs puff up, the middle is set, and the edges are slightly golden.

Take pan out of the oven and let frittata rest for 5 minutes. Go around the edge of the pan with a spatula to loosen edges. Keeping your oven mitt on the entire time, carefully slide frittata onto a large cutting board or platter, using the spatula to help keep it together.

Slice into wedges, pile on desired toppings and serve.

***

Seize The Last Days of Fall

Just because I started picking apples from my backyard tree doesn’t mean I’m going to miss out on a trip to the apple orchard. When I told my mom we planned an afternoon picking apples, enjoying a tractor pulled hayride and choosing the perfect pumpkin, she was immediately transported back to the days when she would take her little girls out for some fall fun. Love those seasonal traditions.

In Minnesota, fall is short lived. We treasure every sunny autumn day when the trees are still full of leaves in bright shades of orange, yellow and red. We know it’s only a matter of time before the cool temperatures turn to downright cold and we take advantage of it.

Jay’s brother Tom and his wife Michele have two fabulously fun girls. Audrey is four and Sofia is three. A few Saturdays ago, all of us ventured out to the orchard to make some memories, people.

After tasting several varieties that were ready for picking, Jay and I decided to go Cortland all the way. The Cortland is a sweet, juicy apple with a lovely balance of tartness. When you cut through the reddish green skin you’ll discover a snow white flesh. Interestingly, they are slow to turn brown so they are just the variety to serve raw in a salad or on a fruit and cheese plate.

Watching Audrey and Sofia run through the orchard, searching for the perfect apple was nothing but delightful. Jay and Tommy would lift the girls up so they could reach the higher fruit. They insisted on carrying their own bags, no matter how full and heavy they became.

At some point, each of us would spot an apple we were sure was flawless. Lovely shape, bright color, surely sweet and tart on the inside. We’d stretch and reach and weave between the leaves and branches to get our hands around it, only to be sorely disappointed. A worm hole or a soft spot was discovered. The picker let out a groan, opened their hand so the apple would fall to the ground and continue the hunt. We left full of fresh air and with a trunk full of fruit.

But as much as I enjoy the taste of apples, I rarely just grab one and take a bite. Instead, I prefer them alongside other flavors. Like cheese. And meat. And bread. I mean, that makes sense, right?

Seize the last days of fall, get out to the orchard and make some memories. And then make this snack.

***

Apple and Speck Crostini

I’ve been making these for snacks and dinner parties nonstop since bringing home bags of apples. In this version, I used pecorino cheese. It’s hard, salty and made of sheeps milk, contrasting beautifully with the sweet apples and honey. I also made a version with a good quality blue cheese which was equally delicious. If you can’t find speck, prosciutto will also work well.

Use this:

1 baguette, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

2 apples (such as Cortland), cored and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices

4 oz pecorino cheese, sliced

6 oz thinly sliced speck, cut crosswise into three sections

2 tbsp honey

1/4 cup olive oil

salt

pepper

Do this:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the bread pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and toasted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Top each crostini with a slice of cheese, a slice of apple and a mounded slice of speck. Drizzle honey over the entire platter of crostini and serve.

***

Get In On The Milking Action

Years of working as a news reporter has trained me to be completely unafraid of asking someone I barely know if I can come over to their home. This lack of fear and social boundaries seriously paid off a few weeks ago when Jay and I hit the road for a homesteading field trip. And the only thing on my mind was milking goats.

I know a lovely young woman named Lynn who, like me, works in television. She’s a director for the 5 Eyewitness News morning broadcasts. She works early mornings and aside from saying hello in passing, she and I never had much contact at work.

That all changed when she heard through the grapevine that some chickens were coming home to roost at my house.

Lynn sent me an email saying she learned I was adding a flock to my life. And over the course of a few weeks, she told me about her homesteading life. The only natural thing for me to do was to declare that I must come over and see this for myself. As in, this Saturday. With my camera. And my boyfriend. And armed with about eight thousand questions.

Lynn, being an overall delightful person who is clearly used to dealing with pushy reporters, replied with a “yes” and we were on our way.

Brownton, Minnesota is a town of 800 about 60 miles West of Minneapolis. Lynn and her fiance Shane are two of those residents. Lynn has a brutal commute to work every day, but she says there’s no question it’s worth it.

That’s because Lynn and Shane live on a five acre homestead complete with a garden, a barn, chickens and very smiley goats. And Lynn said if we arrived by three in the afternoon, we could get in on the milking action.

Entertaining us for an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon was a serious sacrifice for these two because time’s-a-wasting. When a typical couple is planning to get married the following month, they have lots of little details to take care of. But these two are a totally different story.

That’s because Lynn and Shane are having their wedding on their property. They are renovating the upper level of this barn so they can pledge to spend their lives together inside it.

Below, four goats curiously greet us from their stalls. These lovely ladies are milked twice a day so Lynn can turn their milk into goat cheese. She’s freezing each batch to serve to her guests who will be seated at tables in the yard for the wedding reception. I helped with the milking…although I haven’t quite mastered the double-hand rhythm that Lynn has.

After the goats are good to go, we head outside to search for the chickens. These birds run wild during the day and return to their shelter at dusk.

Just days ago, they were slaughtered. And soon, those birds who roamed free like chickens should, will be cooked by the chef at a local restaurant and plated up for the couple’s first post-wedding dinner. Isn’t that amazing?!

Also on the property is a coop for the laying hens and their handsome rooster. Like Jay and I, Lynn and Shane have an Americauna and a Buff Orpington.

They also have a Barred Rock, but theirs is the man of the house. Seeing the grown version of our teenaged chicks was fascinating. Their rooster hates to be separated from his girls and wasn’t too happy about our visit. While we walked through the run and the coop, he squawked and crowed outside the fence. Clearly, we were in his territory.

We explore some more, wandering past the garden, some grape vines and a black walnut tree. And then it’s into the house for a little goat milk tasting session.

We passed the living room on our way into the kitchen and something caught my eye. An example of Lynn embracing all sides of her. The side that wants to raise her own food and live in the country. And the one that wants to look great in a darn cute outfit. Stacked on top of Country Living magazine was the latest J.Crew catalog. Ahhh, the yin and the yang of life.

Lynn pulled out a mason jar of fresh, raw goat milk and poured some into two glasses. The milk was cold, creamy and slightly tangy.

She unwrapped a mound of creamy, white goat cheese and plated it up. We pulled crumbly chunks off of the plate and popped them into our mouths. It was light but creamy at the same time. The flavor was mild but with a more intense tang than the milk.

Not only do I invite myself over to Lynn and Shane’s house, but once I arrive, I ask to take photos of the inside of their refrigerator. In that moment, it seemed like the right thing to do. It was overflowing with jars of raw milk and cartons of multi-colored eggs. Thinking about it now, I realize I clearly have no shame.

Lynn and Shane sent us on our way with more milk and a dozen precious eggs from their hens. Jay and I drove back to the city feeling nothing but admiration for our new friends.

It’s clear Lynn and Shane have a vision of what they want their life to look like and they are making it happen with every milking session, every long drive to and from work and every nail they pound into that barn. And that’s something they should be very proud of.

Outstanding In The Field

One of the greatest joys of my day job is the opportunity I have to share the stories of people in the Twin Cities. I love to see how people live and the passion behind what they do. Of course, when those stories are centered on anything related to composting, cultivating or cooking, they are even more interesting to me. Today is an example of that.

For about a year now, I’ve been checking in on the work of an organization called Outstanding in the Field. My sister tipped me off to these pioneers of the modern farm dinner and I’ve been dying to get to one of their events. When I saw that an Afton, Minn. farm was hosting a feast in it’s field this summer, I knew I had to go there and see it for myself.

The concept is simple: the Outstanding crew travels from farm to farm across the country. They connect top local chefs with sustainable farms to create a dinner for up to 200 guests. The diners share one long communal table for a dinner party unlike any other.

Little Foot Farm is a place I absolutely, positively fell in love with. I felt at home the minute I arrived on the property.

Karen and Sally own the farm. They are raising pigs, chickens, produce and their two sons. And the Outstanding meal centered on the pork. Chefs Scott Pampuch and Mike Phillips created the menu months ago, preparing by pickling seasonal vegetables and curing the meat.

It’s an intimate and unique way for guests to get as close to the production of their food as possible.

And you can get as close to the experience as possible by watching this:

The only thing I’ll do differently at the next Outstanding event I attend? Less working, more eating!

American Independence

Every country and culture has it’s story. And this week in the United States, we’re celebrating ours. Sure, there are fireworks, tacky t-shirts and hot dogs to be consumed on the 4th of July. But it’s also time for a little reflection.

I’ve always been inspired by American Independence. While there are certainly many problems to fix here, I feel incredibly blessed (particularly as a woman) to live in a country where the idea that anything is possible is a vibrant part of our value system.

I’ve spent some time in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and I’ll never forget seeing the city’s oldest cemetery. It’s called Point of Graves on Mechanic Street. It’s a small piece of land dotted with the unassuming grave markers on the burial sites of some of the original Americans, those who made their way to the United States to start a new life. Some of them died in the New World in the 1600’s. Can you imagine the courage, gumption and little bit of crazy it would take to leave familiarity and build a home in an undeveloped land?

Our Founding Fathers and those who came to America in the early days certainly had their flaws. But they had a clear desire for independence and self-sustainability. They had a purpose. Courage. And nerve. Qualities all of us should embrace. Bottom line, it’s a can-do attitude.

So today, I thought I’d share a few of my can-do inspirations. First up, a book I plan to read some of this week:

Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf (Deckle Edge, 2011). The book shares the story of the founding fathers  and their passion for farming, gardening and the environment. They are qualities that take a backseat in most history books, which focus on the political and other social accomplishments of those who fought for the sovereignty of our nation. This guy is on my Kindle as we speak.

I credit The New Moosewood Cookbook with my earliest confidence in the kitchen. Back in my vegetarian days (more on that later), I cooked nearly everything I ate from this book. It’s hand-written and dotted with simple hand-drawn illustrations. And for some reason, that seriously lessens the cooking intimidation factor. The soups were the perfect starting point. I’d follow Mollie Katzen’s recipe for Minestrone to a T the first time. After a success, I’d believe in myself enough to take some liberties. On another note, I beg you to try the Carrot-Mushroom Loaf. Please. I know it sounds awful, but I’m telling you, there’s something amazing about it.

It might sound funny to list a hair-care line among your inspirations, but when I was in college I worked part-time at Aveda. 
It turned out to be a pretty life-changing experience. The company culture profoundly impacted me while I stocked the shelves with Blue Malva shampoo and became addicted to Lip Saver. I learned about environmental stewardship and the impact of toxins on our bodies and minds. Plus, the whole place just smells so darn good. Take a look at Aveda’s mission statement. It’s good stuff.

I even laugh a little bit at myself when I think about this next inspirational piece of literature. Fashionistas love getting the latest issues of Vogue and Elle. And while I do find UsWeekly quite entertaining, it’s the mail day when my latest Organic Gardening arrives that I’m most excited about. I mean, take one look at the cover above and I’m sure you’re not surprised. But really, this is a terrific publication, even for the novice gardener. In one issue I learned about the value of raised beds. In another, the wide varieties of heritage watermelons I’ve been missing out on. And throughout the magazines, there are tales of garden failures and successes. Totally inspiring.

And finally (for today, that is), the book that turned me vegetarian for a solid four years. John Robbins is one of the heirs to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune. But he turned it all down to live a vegan lifestyle and fight for animal welfare. His book Diet for a New America is not for the faint of heart, but I know you can take it. It describes in graphic detail the horrors of factory farming, something I believe is one of the most shameful industries in America. When I read it, I was so impacted by the treatment that cows, pigs and chickens endure during their short and painful life, I felt the only thing I could do was to stop eating them. And more importantly really, to stop buying meat. Today, I’m a responsible meat eater. I only purchase meat that is humanely and responsibly produced. Where the animals and people raising them are treated humanely, with respect and appreciation. I feel strongly that for all of us, that should be a given.

Enjoy and appreciate your Independence this week, wherever you may be!


Chopping Banana Peels

Okay, I’m just going to say it. I have worms. At least a thousand of them. They live in my basement. By the time you finish reading this, I’m pretty darn sure a little part of you will want the same thing.

Because the thing with these worms is, they do magical things. Worms eat what we don’t want and turn it into the perfect plant power food: compost.

This might seem strange, but my worm obsession really got underway while I was anticipating a purchase and watching NHL 36. It was unusually warm spring in Minnesota this year and I started planning my garden early. I was thinking about focusing on squash this summer and deciding where to place my tomatoes. And then I had a flashback to my least favorite part of the planting season: hauling bags of compost. My sandy soil in South Minneapolis needs a little oomph. And so, I go down the street to the garden store. I open the hatch of my car. I lift and stack the bags in the back. I pay for them. Wait, I pay a lot for them. I drive my loot home, unload it, rip open the bags, and distribute their rich contents throughout my beds. I’m exhausted now just thinking about it. And all of that went through my mind just as I threw another bowl of juice pulp into the trash. As sustainable farming evangelist Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.”

But there was a missing link.

One night, Jay flipped on the show Beyond The Puck on The National Geographic Channel. As the name suggests, it follows a pro-hockey player and his life off the ice. Andrew Ference is a defenseman for the Boston Bruins. He’s a Canadian. In 2011, he was fined $2500 for giving the middle finger to the crowd after he scored a goal. He’s also a worm composter. Jay and I watched Andrew take his daughter to the back door and reveal his worm compost bin to the cameras. He opened it up, checked in on the red wigglers living their wormy life and fed them kitchen scraps that in most households end up wasted.

The missing link is sometimes found in unexpected places.

I was getting myself some worms.

After days of research, I settled on the Worm Factory 360. I ordered the worm bin, a ceramic compost pail to keep on my counter and a thousand red wigglers from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. And that day, as I dumped more blitzed, dry bits of organic carrots, apples and greens into my garbage can, I knew things were about to change.

I prepared the worms’ bed with a mixture of shredded newspaper, pumice and coir (coconut fiber). The worms went in and slowly but surely, they started eating through small piles of cooking leftovers (sans meat, dairy and citrus). Coffee grounds, shredded paper, fruit and vegetable leftovers are all fair game. We had a few tense moments at the beginning when about a dozen worms wiggled their way out of the bin and fell to their death on the basement floor. I felt guilty. But their buddies were living the high life in the snack-packed worm bin, so I moved on.

And all of this led to the other morning, when I found myself chopping banana peels. I often buy bunches of bananas. I eat them fresh, but once they are too ripe for my taste, I peel the remaining fruit, break it into pieces and freeze them in baggies. Perfect smoothie ingredient.

I was left with a pile of peels. But the thing is, my worms like their bites small. As in, minced. Makes sense, as they are pretty darn small themselves.

So instead of tossing that mountain of banana peels into the waste bin, I chopped them. I went to the basement. I opened my worm compost bin and checked on my red wigglers living their wormy life. And I fed them the kitchen scraps that in this household, used to end up wasted.

I Went to Chicken School

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a textbook. I packed up my notebook and pen. And I went to Chicken School.

Because the reality is, there’s no way this home can be a homestead without a flock of egg-laying hens in the backyard. No, sir. My vegetables and herbs grow in my garden. My chickens will eat the scraps. I will eat the eggs the chickens lay. The chicken waste will create compost. The compost will nourish my garden. A beautiful cycle.

Owning chickens has been a dream of mine for quite some time. In fact, my mom says it’s in my blood. The first time I shared my aspirations for fowl with her, she laughed and said: “You got that from your grandfather!”

She told me the story of her dad, Gerald Otte. When my mom and her siblings were young, their dad decided they needed to learn to live off the land. That land was a neighborhood in Ft. Worth, Texas. And Jerry’s children simply weren’t exposed to enough country life in the city. So my grandfather decided to buy himself a flock of chickens for the backyard. Eggs! Meat! Farm life!

Sounds like a lovely idea, until he realized that half those chickens were roosters. And as soon as the headlights of a car driving at night would shine down the street, those roosters thought the sun came early. And so they crowed. In the middle of the neighborhood in Ft. Worth, Texas.

As my mom tells it, Grandpa had to call his mother-in-law in Oklahoma to come and slaughter those chickens. In the backyard. Running headless. I’m told one even flapped down the street. Yikes.

Clearly, Grandpa didn’t go to Chicken School.

My first unofficial chicken lesson came from Janice Cole. She’s a Twin Cities woman who wrote a lovely cookbook called Chicken and Egg. Recipes inspired by the small flock of birds she keeps in her suburban Twin Cities backyard.

She let me come and visit her last June. I’ll never forget meeting her lovely hens. I held a chicken for the first time in my life. I shrieked with delight when we gathered eggs from Janice’s backyard coop. Janice sent me home with a half-dozen of her precious, multicolored eggs. They were the best scrambled breakfast I’d ever had.

Almost exactly a year later, it’s time to really get educated on my future feathered friends. So I signed up for a class at EggPlant Urban Farm Supply store in St. Paul. Owner Bob Lies took me and my classmates through everything we need to know about raising chicks. I even made a friend at school. We exchanged contact information and made a vow of mutual chicken-sitting.

Clearly, I’m not alone in my quest for fresh eggs. The Pioneer Press reporter who wrote this article on the rising popularity of backyard flocks observed my class.

If I do say so myself, I was an “A” student. I sat quietly. I took pages of notes. I even asked a question.

And since then, I’ve been doing my homework. Researching coops (the city requires 4 square feet of space for each chicken), convincing my neighbors (whose reactions have ranged from “oh, sure” to “yay! I can’t wait!”) and working through the permitting process. Some may read another chapter of Fifty Shades before they go to bed. I curl up with A Chicken in Every Yard.

In fact, I think I’ll get through another chapter right now. And have scrambled eggs for breakfast in the morning.