Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer "Up North"-Tortellini Salad

Goin' on a picnic, leavin' right away.....
Nah, Let's first go out for breakfast and read the paper.

A weekend up's what Minnesotans (if they live elsewhere, that is) do in the summer. Cabin fever is as real as it gets here. The cities sort of empty out onto the mostly northern routes come Friday afternoon and people head out to find their family/friend groups until Labor Day. We joined the throng last weekend.
Our trip began very late on Saturday morning because we insisted on a long breakfast at our favorite near-by Mediterranean cafe, Shish. A new baby and two birthdays drew us and we joined family members who flew in from Florida for a caravan to, well, not to the cabin, but to the hotel anyway. Not until after the rain started and we had to replace a windshield wiper. To say nothing of the boocoo bucks we had just spent that day replacing tons of wiring mice had chewed in our apartment parking lot. (The four-wheel drive is still out because of the sweet little rodents; part yet to come.) Do we really need cars?

Here's one sweet fellow we went to see----

Fell in love with newest little Hadhazy:
Meet Blake Ryan, aged 2 months, son

of nephew Joe and wife Becky.
Loving brother of Olivia (see below)
Grandson of my sister, Helen (see below)

Spent a great day visiting with family, picnicing and grilling.... I brought my Tortellini Salad, which I for some reason forgot to photograph. Never mind: I have a great picture of Olivia instead! (Next time I make it, I'll include the pic.)

Olivia turns six!
She's as sweet as she looks!
Happy Birthday to you!!!!!!!!!

After the meal, Joe built a huge bonfire in the back forty and we enjoyed it along with sparklers and other fun fireworks. Mostly, we just enjoyed one another because we so seldom get together. Too sad. Can we fix that problem?

Grandma Helen gets cuddle time.

Lots of great food all day; wonderful drink, too. I had many requests for the recipe for the Tortellini Salad I took and, when I got home, had an email request from friend Jan for same. Anyway, here it is; you can adlib the veg.....

serves 12

18-20 oz. fresh cheese tortellini (find in cold case)
2 small zucchini, cut into matchstick size pieces
1 small yellow squash, ditto
1 red sweet pepper, ditto
1 yellow sweet pepper, ditto
1 green or orange sweet pepper, ditto
1/4 c minced red onion
1/4# hard salami, cut into 1/4" slices
1/3 c fresh basil, shredded (keep out 1 T for top of dish)
1/2 c freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (keep out 2T for top of dish)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3T red wine vinegar
2T Dijon mustard
1/3 c Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt; Freshly-ground Pepper

In 8 qt. stock pot, bring 5-6 qts. well-salted water to boil. Add fresh tortellini and cook about 8 min or according to package directions.
Meantime, make dressing: In large bowl (or baby food processor), whisk together red wine vinegar, garlic and Dijon mustard. Slowly pour in olive oil and whisk until emulsified (creamy and satiny). Add salt and pepper and stir well. Set dressing aside.
Drain tortellini while still a tad al dente and, while hot in colander, add all zucchini and yellow squash. Stir gently to let heat of pasta cook the squash just a tad. Allow pasta and squash to cool, stirring periodically.
Add sliced peppers, salami, all but 2 T parmesan and all but 1T fresh basil. Stir gently; tortellini can fall apart easily. Drizzle most of dressing onto salad and combine. (Save some dressing to add right before serving) Refrigerate until needed or overnight. To serve, add extra dressing and taste salad for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with reserved basil and parmesan cheese.

Enjoying time at Gooseberry Falls at
Lake Superior. End of a great day......

Come see the Great Lakes!

Family members elsewhere: We missed you!

Sing a new song,
P.S. I'm reading nothing but new choral scores this week. If I ever get the nerve, I'll post some video of my totally reinventing myself as a conductor.
Starting from scratch.... it's fun at 55.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer in the City-Breakfast Pita

My view as I go to practice each day at the chapel.

The back of the organ in the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel

Is there something about the weekend that makes us want to cook breakfast? Well, of course there is, but what exactly is it? While I love practicing every day and spending time reading conducting textbooks (can be a kinda odd thing to do all alone), I am thrilled when Saturday comes! My own family is entranced with the idea. Let's make frittata; let's make blueberry pancakes. Quiche. Egg casserole. Waffles and eggs with toppings (mushrooms, salsa, cheese, shallots). Huge pots of fresh coffee drank while it's hot. Why do we so often find our morning coffee sitting cold somewhere when we come home at night? Something wrong somewhere, hon. I vote for hot coffee ALWAYS.

In fact, we like eating breakfast on the weekend so well that we will go out and pay for that meal after church. We'll spend a good chunk of time sitting together, drinking coffee, enjoying the meal, enjoying our time that is not in a hurry, is not rushed, is not ending pretty soon now. We sometimes take friends old and perfectly good tradition. Inviting folks for Sunday lunch, I mean. The French, I'm told, rever the Sunday afternoon meal so much that it is said to be their favorite meal. Just because it is the longest stretch of time during the week where nothing else has to happen------just food----------just togetherness. Ok, there could be wine, too.

As the weekend draws near, think about how you'll spend that time (other than the ubiquitous chores). Other than grocery shopping. Other than mowing the lawn. Make a little vacation time at home with breakfast. Plan it a bit ahead. If not, you've aways got pancake mix, right? Think about NOT running around. How about cooking a little something (really easy) for your loved one or a friend? Add music; add a good newpaper; add the magazines you have no time to read. Re-read A YEAR IN PROVENCE and see what Peter Mayle did in all of his free time around the pool in the summer (when he wasn't supervising workpeople).

Here's an easy breakfast pita that's ready to help make your weekend what weekends are supposed to be. It's also a great meal for cooking away from home because the ingredient list is short and sweet. Good quick supper, too. Just the right thing to make you give thanks for your loved ones and "fast" food. Lovely right now when the tomatoes
are tomatoes, not some oddly colored, hard facsimile we sometimes see in the winter. Squeeze some oranges for fresh juice. Yes, you can do it. You're hardly cooking. Or try a dry rose--lots of 2008s about.

Where's the fresh juice?
Coffee, hot, lots of it......
Real cream?
Breakfast Pitas
two servings
5 eggs
2 t butter
1 whole-wheat pita cut in half
1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
1 tomato, roughly chopped
1/4c chopped kalamata olives
1/2 t dry oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 c fresh spinach leaves
1 c red grapes (separate on plate)

Place half a pita on each of two plates
In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt butter. Crack eggs into pan and stir thoroughly. Cook until about half set.

Add feta, tomatoes, olives and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Spoon half of the egg mixture into each pita half and garnish with parsley. Stuff spinach into pita alongside egg mixture. Place 1/2 c grapes on each plate.

Sing a new song,

P.S. Might be a break in the blog. We are off for a spot of travel to see a new family addition and to celebrate a couple of birthdays "up north" before my intensive conducting class begins next Monday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer in the City-Golden Beet Potato Salad

Here's the apartment building-home sweet home

There are times, even in the furnished apartment, far from home, that you still have just got to have a burger and potato salad. It's summer, isn't it? I came "home" from rehearsing with a friend yesterday praying that while I was gone, a balcony avec gas grill had suddenly appeared. I didn't need geraniums hanging from it or cozy chairs, a table or a settee; I just wanted to be able to exit the apartment into somewhere outdoors. (The picinic is another blog.) While the apartment appeared the same as always (just in case, I ran up the three flights of stairs to no avail), I still had the taste for summer fare and began to look in the frig and freezer. The freezer was a bonus chest holding Laura's Lean Beef frozen hamburger patties and 4 whole wheat buns. The frig held some red pepper, red onion, zucchini, broccoli, sweet green-topped small carrots, 4 tiny golden beets, a jar of Klausen dill midgets, lots of eggs and an unusual bottle of Light Canola Mayo from Whole Foods. Now, if you've ever tried to buy mayo at Whole Foods, you know what I mean. I tasted it and promptly returned it to the shelf; perhaps it would improve with another month in the frig.

Surely something could develop out of all of that; I even had a small tomato on the counter leftover from the Farmer's Market. Down on the low shelf was mustard (Sunshine and Dijon) and, from Emily's stay, KETCHUP. Treasure and treasures. Under the sink were the rest of the potatoes I'd bought when we moved in. I got out the cutting board stolen from friend Sue and began chopping, hoping for inspiration to spring whole cloth from the knife.

When nutritionists encourage you to eat foods of many colors, they don't tell you just how stunningly beautiful those foods are. I could hardly keep from snacking on the veg as I chopped, and, why not? You can't get too much veg, can you?

Meantime, I set the potatoes and eggs each in their pots of cold water and then remembered I had no lids for the pots. One pot was so warped, it hardly sat on the uneven burner. Warped pan, uneven burner: insert bad words.

Here's what the inventive cook did:

One cookie sheet
One 9x13 pan cover

Hey, it worked, didn't it?

Meantime, what was the dressing going to
consist of? I opened cupboards and began rummaging. Nice olive oil (I never leave home without it; I have no American Express card), that would be the start. Hmm.. Toasted Sesame Oil: probably not.
Red wine vinegar: same answer. White wine vinegar: ok. Penzey's French Vinaigrette seasoning: well, I hadn't tried it, but today was looking like the day. Salt, Pepper....sounding better by the minute.

While the potatoes and yellow beets cooled, I put the eggs under cold water and peeled them. Chopping them on the board with the veg, I thought I had a good mix that would eat well. I grilled burgers on top of the stove (alas, alack) in the grill pan and toasted the buns (any bread from the freezer needs help), set the table (ok, counter) and mixed in the pot (there's no big bowl in this place!) all of the salad ingredients. Had to have Dave taste it to see if I needed to run to a store and buy Best Foods or Hellman's or whatever they call it here mayo. Dave pronounced it not only edible, but tasty. Here's as near as I can come to a recipe:

Golden Beet Potato Salad

6 medium red potatoes, cooked, cooled, and roughly chopped
(don't peel)
3-5 small golden beets, topped and peeled and diced (cooked with potatoes)
3 boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 c sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 c red onion, minced
1/2 c zucchini, diced
1/4 c dill pickles, diced
1/2c carrots, diced
1/2 c broccoli, diced
1/2 t seasoning *see note
3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 T white wine vinegar
1-2 T Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper

After making sure potatoes and beets are cooled, add rest of ingredients up to olive oil. Stir gently and season a bit, tasting and re-seasoning. Drizzle salad with olive oil and sprinkle with wine vinegar, first using lower amounts, tasting and then adding more, if necessary. Use first 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, taste, and only add second tablespoon if necessary. Give entire salad an extra few grinds of pepper over the top for garnish.

*Seasoning: I used Penzey's Country French Vinaigrette dry seasoning (in the house), which includes lemon peel, thyme, garlic, tarragon, chives, etc. You could use most any fresh herb or just parsley would be fine. Dried thyme and/or rosemary would probably be tasty if you're careful with amounts.

Be inventive; use whatever veg is in your
frig. If you're unsure about adding something, remove a little salad to a small bowl, add the questionable ingredient and try it before adding to the entire salad. Make enough for two nights; grill some fish or chicken the next night.

Enjoy your summer weekend; I hope YOU have a grill in your backyard!

Just for fun---------here's what I'm reading, listening to, etc this week: (Please post what you're reading, listening to.....)

Piano: Mark Hayes vocal solos for friend Margo's upcoming solos
Organ: Walcha Chorale Preludes
Books: EVOKING SOUND by James Jordan; IONA ABBEY WORSHIP BOOK by The Iona community; PASSION ON THE VINE by
Sergio Esposito. I also continue to peruse FROM NOMADS TO PILGRIMS; STORIES FROM PRACTICING CONGREGATIONS by Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking.
Listening: Charpentier "Te Deum" and "Messe de Minuit pour Noel"

Exercise: Walking our

Miss Gabby

Sing a new song,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer in the City-Scallop Basil Skillet

My friend Lani and I hit the St. Paul Farmer's Market last weekend and came home with more than summer's bounty; we arrived back with the crown jewels. Summer in the furnished apartment began to look somewhat more attractive. The market is the perfect place to grab just exactly how much you need for a yummy, packed with nutrition meal. Have a look at those baby red potatoes freshly dug the morning I bought them. Not only potatoes, but I also snagged bunches of fresh basil, baskets of the first tomatoes of the season, zucchini, Amish Sheep Cheese, carrots with foot and a half green tops, rhubarb (we're up north, remember), raspberries --"no spray"--for my yogurt (and instant pleasure) and, perhaps a couple of other things I ate along the way.

Stands full of flowers, both cut and plantable, fresh meats, hand-made soaps and buckets upon buckets of you-name-it fresh produce filled the landmark market. To sell in this market, you must have grown (made, created) your sellables within 50 miles of St. Paul. No South American fruit here. Many organic lovelies to chomp at will. A brilliant sight to behold early on a Saturday morning. And, NO, you needn't have had breakfast. You can grab a freshly-made bagel with egg and your choice of toppings and, of course, your favorite cup of coffee. (I'll bring my camera some visit. Had smartly left my compact flash in the printer in Colorado.)

I struggled back to the third-floor walkup apartment toting my heavy load and spread it out all over the counter. Well, it had all looked stunning at the market, but what the - - - was I to do with it once I was home? I 'm guessing this happens to a lot of people, and, friends, this stuff doesn't hold forever. Nor is it cheap. It's a bargain because it's top quality fresh produce that will nourish your body and soul, but it is not inexpensive. Well, first I would wash it and store it; that seemed like an intelligent plan. While I filled the sink with water and dug out a scrubby (zucchini and carrots are filthy from any place), I began having pictures in my head of different meals.

A fresh pasta pesto with an uncooked tomato sauce. Well, possible, but I hadn't bought enough basil for pesto, nor enough tomatoes for sauce. I could make enough for a half portion maybe. What else? Oh! I had carrots, potatoes, onions; what about pot roast? Actually, Alyce, it's summer, honey, and....there's just you for dinner. Not that I mind leftovers, which may be the most creative place in cooking. But, leaving that oven or stove on for hours in Minnesota summer? Probably not.

Now, I don't mind cooking nearly anything for one. There was a time when I only made scrambled eggs (maybe with smoked salmon) and toast or grilled cheese and sliced tomatoes if on my own. "It's just me." Those days are long gone; I cook whatever I please. I set the dining room table. I put out wine; I light the candle. It's a great venue for prayer and my long days end in a positive way. Somehow, you just finally decide to eat right even if alone. (A friend or neighbor will tell you they are sometimes invited to that table as well... "I have too much dinner, come eat.")

Still, this meal appeared to be one that should be quickly made, using little heat and keeping things as fresh as possible. You guessed it, I had to run to the fishmonger (Coastal Seafood, two blocks away) for a few scallops. I had in mind a quick saute of the veg, adding some shallot and garlic with lots of freshly-ground pepper and then throwing the scallops in at the end for something resembling a Minnesota Fish Stir-fry. So, here it is; I increased the amounts for a meal for two and you can try it yourself. An inventive kitchen lover might use shrimp in place of the scallops or even catfish nuggets if you are a hearty, hearty soul.

I used a 14" skillet with 4" sides.

A wok would probably suffice.

The one-skillet deal appealed to the "I hate to wash dishes" Alyce.

Don't bother to chop the basil, just throw it in whole like spinach. You could use both if you had them--or either.


2 c tiny baby red potatoes (cut into ½” pieces if larger)
2T butter
1 large zucchini, sliced into ¼” rounds
1 shallot, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
½ t dried oregano (1t if fresh)
Kosher salt and Freshly- ground pepper
¾-1# fresh sea scallops
2 medium tomatoes, diced
½ c fresh basil leaves, whole
1 lemon, cut in half (use first half; cut second one into fourths for serving)

**Place baby red potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl or plate with ¼c water. Cover and microwave on high 3 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.

**Heat large skillet over medium heat and add butter. When melted, add zucchini, shallot, garlic, oregano and season with Kosher salt and pepper. Cook until zucchini starts to wilt; add drained potatoes. Saute together until zucchini begins to brown (remove garlic temporarily if it starts to burn) and then push vegetables to the side of the skillet.
**Add scallops and cook about a minute before sprinkling pan with chopped tomatoes and whole basil leaves. Cook another minute or so until scallops are light brown on one side. Turn scallops and stir vegetables. Cook until scallops are almost golden on the other side. Check for doneness; they should be tender, juicy, but opaque. (Return garlic to pan if needed.)
**Squeeze lemon over all and give the entire meal a sprinkle of pepper. Turn out onto plates and serve with the rest of the lemon.

Wine: Summer super: Ugni-Blanc Colombard (2007)Outstanding Another option: Aussie or French Viognier--You need something to stand up to lots of pepper and the depth of a meal with garlic, tomatoes and potatoes.

I don't know anyone (except those who dislike seafood) who wouldn't enjoy this meal. It's light enough for folks who are into fish and salad, but is also deep enough for someone with a "I wanted steak" appetite. It's fast, but not really furious. I made it again for friend Sue, (just to test the recipe once written) who pronounced it "delicious, delicious!" I think she was also pretty happy to have someone else cooking in her kitchen.

This week also marks our Emily's entrance into seminary at Princeton Theological Seminary. It's a big week for everyone in our family, especially for her Dad, who shared the cross-country drive with her last weekend while I schlepped all over the Farmer's Market. Bear with me as I add the pics.............................

We pray for you, Emi!

Sing a new song,

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer in the City-Steak with Mushroom Green Beans

(Summer nights in Colorado..........)

We spent the last week at home (see end), away from our pied a terre St. Paul. So, above pic is certainly our night deck in Colorado Springs. Still! We cooked a birthday meal worthy of the rented apartment kitchen and just perfect for a summer celebration, so thought we'd share it with you and continue the Summer in the City theme---it's just summer in Colorado Springs this time.
Somehow, summer birthdays sometimes seem to suffer. It just doesn't seem like a big celebration when it's too hot to cook or bake indoors...... Think Fourth of July menus--cook-outs all. The rest of summer is picnic or beach fare, nothing fancy. So whattodo when your loved one has chosen a hot July for his birthday? For all the years of our marriage, I've baked David's favorite Pagliacci's Cheesecake (from the lovely Canadian restaurant of the same name) in the wee small hours of the morning, as Sinatra would say. Escaped the heat and made the man happy. No time for all that this year; I had left the cheesecake ingredients in the apartment in St. Paul. What to do?
(Cherries almost ready while home;
Tony picked them for us.....
We'll have them Thanksiving)

In the Springs, God is undeniably closer because he set Marigold's Cafe and Bakery right over on the west side on Centennial, not too far down the road from my house. We hopped on over and let Dave take his pick out of the bakery case. He chose key-lime tart topped with meringue and what a light, airy, not too sweet little ditty it was for the warm night coming up. I had to really suck in my pride that day; I love to see Dave tuck into that cheesecake and watch his face after the first bite. (Another day.........) While at the bakery, we grabbed a couple of baby whole-wheat baguettes, a miracle of baking Marigold's accomplishes daily or more.

As we had not planned our trip home, we had little in the frig and did not want to stock it fully, so planned an easily shopped for and cooked 60's birthday meal as follows (Serves 2)......................

Fat Asparagus with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
Chalone Chardonnay
Ranch Foods Direct Filets
Baked Potatoes with Butter and Sour Cream
Fresh Green Beans with Garlic Mushrooms
Whole Wheat Baguette (bought)
Key Lime Meringue Tart (bought)
Best Cab in your cellar *(Happy Birthday)

*(Cabernet Sauvignon from CA or
Bordeaux from France)

------------------------Meal Plan--------------
Ok, clear counters, do a few dishes and unload dishwasher before you start if you have to. (In heaven, this won't happen; all kitchens will be ready to cook in whenever anyone enters them.)

Head for the stereo and put on the birthday person's favorite music....
Keep it coming.

Preheat oven to 400 and place washed (Idaho) potatoes (poke 3-4 holes in them first) in the oven.
Note: You could choose sweet potatoes. Same drill. Skip butter and sour cream. I like them plain with a whisper of salt and pepper or ground cayenne and cinnamon.

If the weather is too hot, do them in the microwave while you grill the steaks. Take steaks out of frig and let them come to room temperature. Wash and trim green beans and asparagus.

Quick like a bunny: rinse mushrooms, trim and slice. Uncork wine to let it air (taste...........) and set table so that someone WANTS to sit at it. (All this. Just for me??) Set up coffee pot and put some pretty cups and dessert serving plates nearby. Slice bread and (because you're at altitude!) cover; set on table with butter. Place a small bowl of sour cream, butter and salt and pepper on table. Ok, now you're ready to cook.

------------------------------------------------------- STARTER-----------

Fat Asparagus with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

1 # fat asparagus
1/2 c crumbled gorgonzola (or any blue cheese)
3-5 T milk
freshly ground pepper

In a small, heavy-duty saucepan, mix milk and blue cheese. Set heat to medium-low. Meantime, place fat asparagus on a big dinner plate with a couple of tablespoons of water. Cover with another dinner plate (or plastic wrap if you are brave). Cook on high in the microwave 2-3 minutes until al dente. Remove from microwave and drain; place on small plate. Shower with a strong dose of freshly-ground black pepper. Stir sauce well and put a dallop (a cross between a dab and a dollop) on each plate. Dig in. Good hot or cold. Could be made ahead. (Eat while cooking steak.)

-------- MAIN COURSE COMPONENTS------------------------------------

Table is set; wine is airing; starter is on table. Potatoes have been baking half an hour or so.........Begin with the beans... Here goes--------------------

(not your mother's green beans)

1# green beans, cleaned, trimmed and cut as desired
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1-2 T butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
Salt and pepper

Bring about 2 qts of salted and well-peppered water to boil in a 3 or 4 qt. saucepan. Place beans and sliced onions in pan and lower temperature to medium. Let cook until as done as you like. I like them fairly well-done, which might take 20 minutes. Si place (do as you please in Italian.) Meantime, melt butter in a large skillet and add mushrooms. Cook until about half-way done and add garlic. Continue cooking until mushrooms are tender and smelling heavenly in your house. Drain beans well and add to mushrooms, stirring gently. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. (Return to heat and warm when steaks are almost done) Set aside while steaks cook.

--------- RANCH FOODS DIRECT FILETS ----------
Meat market off Fillmore in Co Spgs

Preheat indoor or outdoor grill to medium high.Take filets and coat with canola oil on all sides. Salt and pepper them well. Sear them on both sides and outer edges. Lower heat and place in 350 oven if cooking indoors, or, close cover of gas grill and cook for around 5 -10 minutes, watching closely until 120 degrees for rare, 125 for medium rare, 130 degrees for well-done. Remove to serving plate and cover for 5 minutes. You will have steak beautifully cooked in a very even way. Goal: as little gray as possible on the meat.

Enjoy starter and Chardonnay while steak cooks.........

almost a surreal steak..........

------------- Meal plan continued-----------------------------

Re- warm beans in skillet as steak cooks. Remove potatoes from oven and check for doneness by inserting sharp knife into middle. If it goes in and out easily (and the potato "gives" when squeezed lovingly), it's done.

Start the coffee.
Plate the meal and head to the table.

Give thanks to God for the blessings of your life, the birth of your loved one and toast the birthday person. Enjoy the meal slowly and be proud of yourself. You didn't have to go to a steakhouse for a birthday meal, did you?

Here's how it looked on our table... It ate just as well.....

Notice how some of the blue cheese sauce ended up on the steak-------yes!

After the meal, love that bakery dessert together.........
No one cares if you didn't make it. (except you!)

Sing a new song,


Lovingly memoriam

Noah Robert Wilkerson

on earth: June 26-June 30, 2009
in our hearts: Forever

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer in the City--Chops and "Greek" Salad

(above: Pipes from organ in St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, where I practice)

There's nothing like going away from home to see new sights, meet new people, eat new food and to fall in love with another part of the world----even if you've been there before. I like to travel (more than my husband does) most places, but I am most fond of traveling, renting a place with cooking privileges and then hitting the local markets, wine stores, cheese shops, bakeries, etc. for a whole new take on cooking. Opens your heart and mind, to say nothing of your cooking sensibilities. (Especially if you're in another country where you don't know how to say 1/2 pound of ham, please) Unless you've traveled with your cookbooks (or have internet access for all the great food sites with recipes) and recipes (and I have been known to do it all), you'll likely have to rely on your 2 things:

1. the great food available in the season in which you're traveling
2. your own good sense and ingenuity

Maybe you brought a spice rub or two for grilling in the park, but, for the most part, you must rely on being able to shop and cook out of those ingredients you've just purchased. You probably are not going to want to spend an extra $100 on the right oils, vinegars, spices, condiments, etc.

That's what these summer blogs will be devoted to as I attend music graduate school at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. And, oh, by the way, I've been so overwhelmed with the study (and entranced, too) that the blog hasn't been posted since right after I left. Looking at turning that around, but frequent postings won't return until I finish this semester.

--- the furnished apartment kitchen----------

So, a kitchen with an old, thin, cheap, warped 8" omelette pan and a similar 3 qt saucepan. That's it for pans. There's a wooden spoon or two, a plastic spatula, something that might pass for a knife, 4 small glasses, 4 small plates, 4 larger plates and some assorted bowls. Perhaps a couple of other oddities (including an electric hot water maker that makes one cup at a time) make up my kitchen equipment. No whisk. No saute pan. Nothing in which to bake. NO tea kettle, coffee pot, no cups. Definitely no Cuisinart. I think the idea was to eat cereal or sandwiches...most likely take-out from the Thai place downstairs.

And, yes, this is a 3rd floor walkup. (Legs getting in shape for sure.)

----- i brought from home-----------

I knew the drill, having been here before, so had brought along my favorite grill pan, a 12" skillet with 4" sides, a tea kettle and French Press for coffee, my favorite whisk, tongs, etc and, of course, a few spices. ( not really necesary as Penzey spices-order online!- is right down the street and you can buy small quantities) I broke down and bought a colander, a small iced tea pitcher and a $6 toaster from Target. Oh, and I had also thrown in my favorite 3 knives along with a wine opener. I borrowed a thing or two (like a couple of wine glasses and a cutting board) from a nearby friend Sue Hall (also babysitting our puppy Gabby--that's another story) and we were all set. Right.

--making the best of what's available locally-----

The best thing about St. Paul (and there are many great things) for me is that we live in the midst of phenomenal food shopping and, if you're not in the mood to cook, there are quick bars in which to jump up and grab a burger and a beer (you're in Minnesota) or a glass of wine if you're not a beer drinker. So far, our favorite local bar is the Groveland Tap, where you can also order (Sundays only, I think) great toasty broasted chicken and a cool glass of wine on the sidewalk cafe outside. You'll probably make a friend while sitting outdoors. There are also lovely cafes with super salads and desserts (Cafe Latte, Shish) where you can pop in for lunch or supper or just while away a gorgeous midwest summer afternoon poring over your Analysis of Choral Scores (from Greek Chant through Late Baroque) textbook.

All this and still time to practice organ............balance is the goal.

For you, it might be the local sightseeing taking up your days.

Within a couple of blocks of our apartment (rented from Macalester College) there are two really good grocery stores (most stores here are local), Coastal Seafood, a tiny holeinthewall cheese shop, Breadsmith, Dunn Brothers (best coffee on earth).... Thomas Liquors (maybe you'll be there in time for the 20 percent off sale!)... You get the picture. Want something for dinner? Run down the block and be there and back cooking in 10 minutes. And, since you had to go up and down 3 flights of stairs, you got some cardio workout in as well. Don't want to cook? Pick up a lovely small meal already cooked. Or just go for the cheese, get some wine and head for Como Park or one of the tuneful outdoor concerts in St. Paul or, even in Shoreview on Wednesday nights. Saturday mornings, don't miss the downtown St. Paul Farmer's Market, which includes flowers and top-quality locally produced meat (including smoked fish), to say nothing of the produce.

--so I decided to cook------------------------------

We've done a variety of things, but, in the interest of health and wealth, we've also cooked quite a bit and had some tasty tidbits and whole meals, too. One of the easiest things to do is to buy some meat that's quickly grillable and fix a salad chock full of vegetables, running through the bakery on the way home to grab a baguette and an already-made pound cake to round out dessert. Enjoy this meal even if you're home, but want no-fuss or muss summer cooking. If you have a friend to grill the chops while you make the salad, you're eating in 15 min.


Grilled Rub of your choice Bone-in Pork Chops
Summer Greek Salad
Pound cake with strawberries, pineapple and ice cream

Shopping List
Pork chops (4)

2 Cucumbers
Red Onion
1 head radicchio
Green Pepper
Pint Strawberries
Already-cut fresh Pineapple
Small bottle olive oil
Small pkg crumbled feta
Vanilla ice cream
At Bakery: Baguette and Pound cake

Things I packed: Rub (a sm bag of Montreal Steak seasoning), Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Recipes (such as they are):

Chops: Heat grill pan over high heat (if the burner will do it)
after giving it a quick rub with a little bit of olive oil. (You could do this over the tiny park grills, too, if you get a cheap, disposable pan of charcoal) Meantime, sprinkle ribs with about 1/2 t your choice dry
rub on each side. Sear the chops on one side for 2-3 minutes and turn to other side, repeat. Lower heat and let chops cook until just a little pink remains (it's safe). Remove to plate and let sit 10 minutes while you prepare salad.

Salad: Chop cucumbers, 1/4 c onion, zucchini, 1 large tomato,
1 large green pepper, radicchio and place in large bowl (or pan; I have
no large bowl here!). Mince the mint and parsley and
stir. Squeeze the lemon over all and drizzle with olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste. Crumble feta over all. (note: no large bowl)

I need a bigger meal: Add penne pasta to the salad (buy it already cooked a the deli or fix your own)

Dessert: Slice pound cake and place on plates. Slice the strawberries, take the pineapple out and place over the cake.
Top with ice cream.

Wine: We had on hand a mellow California Petite Syrah that was smooth and tasty with this meal, but you could also try a dry Rose or even a no-oak Chardonnay as a foil to the kind of middle-Eastern salad approach.

After dinner: Go for a walk and breathe. Try smiling at a few people.
One of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, calls it "the spiritual practice of putting one foot in front of the other."

I have to tell you that, in Minnesota, more likely than not, folks will actually greet you on the street walking... maybe even engage you in chat about the weather, your dog, the kid on the scooter, the incredible blooming yards. My daughter is convinced people are just happier here. Hmm. My husband says his company calls it "Minnesota nice" when they desire a softer, kinder approach...
Hey, nice is free.

Summer Reading (besides text books) AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD, A GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH by Barbara Brown Taylor and PASSION ON THE VINE by Sergio Esposito.

Summer music reading: Organ Chorale preludes, many chants, Renaissance masses and motets, German cantatas, oratorios,Passions, madrigals (Italian and English) and chansons.

Sing a new song (or play it on the organ),