Archive | April, 2012


30 Apr
by Francine

Hello from England!  If you’d like to see, here are some photos I’ve taken during my wanderings the past few weeks.

A photo of some flowers

A photo of a churchyard

A photo of the sunset at the seaside

A photo of meat pie

A photo of sheep

A photo of a London Park

A photo of London

A photo of lanterns along the Thames

A photo of purple sprouting broccoli

A photo of Bodiam Castle

A photo of the castle's entarance

A photo from the castle tower

A photo of an owl

A photo of a scone

A photo of a tea pot

A photo of a book about Kent

Photos 1&2 Wandering around Petworth / Photo 3 Taken along the road from Bognor Regis to Littlehampton / Photo 4 This pie reminded me of this pie / Photo 5 Sheep are a common sight as you drive along / Photos 6-8 A day out in London / Photo 9 Cheerful new placemats and some British broccoli (stay tuned to find out how I used it) / Photos 10-13 Visiting Bodiam Castle / Photos 14-16 Nothing brightens up a very rainy day like afternoon tea! Tea at the Oast in Kent

Confessions of a Gnocchi Newbie

27 Apr
by Deanne

Growing up in a family with Norwegian and Irish heritage, I didn’t encounter any Italian home cooking. When I moved to the Philadelphia area in my thirties, I had a lot to learn about new flavors and dishes.

One day, I wandered into a lovely little ItaA photo of Ristorante Panoramalian restaurant in the quaint and historic Penn’s View Hotel on Front Street in Center City (that’s what the locals call downtown Philly) called Ristorante Panorama. My dining partner seemed to know all about the menu that looked foreign to me. Finally, I randomly pointed to a dish that I now know as gnocchi. My thinking was—it must be safe because it has potatoes in it (my Norwegian and Irish ancestors would be proud).

A few weeks ago, I decided to try making gnocchi with riced potatoes. I followed this recipe by Michael Chiarello. A photo of my homemade gnocchiThe recipe worked very well and I didn’t need to use as much flour to hold the dough together. I attempted to use the fork to make the gnocchi curl, but as you can see by the picture, this is a skill that will take a bit more practice.

When I think about it, gnocchi is similar to Norwegian potato dumplings.  The differences are that they are are bigger and served with different seasonings. The concept of making something special from boring ol’ potatoes which most people had plenty of (especially my Irish and Scandinavian ancestors) is similar across cuisines.

Have you ever made gnocchi from scratch?  Is there something you enjoy making that is connected to your family heritage?

Italian Sausage Carbonara with Springtime Asparagus

24 Apr
by Francine

Here’s another recipe to celebrate asparagus season

I only wish I was back in Minnesota so I could have had a taste when my brother finished making this. 

I’ve seen some fresh looking asparagus for sale here in England so perhaps I’ll give this recipe a try. 

I can smell it already…yum!

Peach Trees in Minnesota?

20 Apr
by Deanne

A watercolor of a peachToday our bare root peach tree arrived in the mail.  It is too wet outside to plant them so we put them in some potting soil and their home is now our basement.  Now we wait for and dream of a warm and sunny day, perfect for peach tree planting.

I am sure by now you know we are a bit crazy…apple and pear trees planted alongside an old drive-in, joyfully harvesting lettuce with numb fingers and starting a FarmerChef special at a restaurant where most people happily order a plain hamburger.  But crazy is good because it often leads to wonderful surprises. (Who would have guessed it was possible for spinach to continue growing in a MN winter?)

But we have been wondering, do peach trees even grow in Minnesota!?  According to the University of Minnesota, our best chance may be to plant them in containers, place them in full sun during the growing season, move them indoors during the winter and carefully monitor their temperature.  Here goes nothing!

Do you have a peach tree or any peachy advice?

(Peach Fruit Watercolor Painting by Vickie Sue Cheek)

Elderflower and Blackcurrant Granola

18 Apr
by Francine

Today it rained many kinds of rain…heavy dark gray clouded rain, sunny above but still somehow raining, misty rain, giant puddle rain…thankfully I had some sunshine in a bowl.A photo of the granola

We discovered this granola made by Dorset Cereals and it is amazing!  Too bad it’s only a limited edition granola, but we may try and make our own version once we empty our purple box.  It is made with elderflower cordial. 

I will definitely be writing more about elderflower (and hopefully foraging for some when it’s at its peak in late May).  But for now I’ll just describe elderflower as a lovely white lacy flower that can be transformed into a juice and an extract that’s sometimes added to pancake batter…among other things. Ikea sells elderflower syrup that can be made into a a drink by adding water.

I’m looking forwarding to trying more creations by Dorset Cereals….the Honey Granola also sounds yummy!

Do you have a favourite granola combination?  Have you ever made your own?  Munch, munch, crunch!

Raised Beds

17 Apr
by Deanne

A photo of the raised bed constructionSince Steve constructed raised beds last summer, I’ve been noticing more and more of them next to restaurants, in home gardens and even in River Cottage episodes.  Their popularity made me wonder, what’s the draw to constructing raised beds?  Since I’m not the gardener of the family, I turned to internet research to find out more.

Raised beds are like big square wooden sandboxes with no bottoms…forgive my crude simile, avid gardeners.  The raised bed is filled with soil that is often more nutrient rich than the native soil of the area.  When it’s time to plant, the plants are placed much closer to one another. This is done so that as they grow they form a dense ecosystem in which it is harder for weeds to grow.  When it comes time for getting rid of the inevitable weeds, the gardener can do so without trampling or compacting the roots of the growing plants, which is something that often happens in a traditional row garden bed.

A photo of the planning sketchSteve decided to implement raised beds after reading about Square Foot Gardening.  He chose to make the raised beds 4′ by 4′ and to construct them out of 2′ by 12′ untreated lumber so as to not contaminate the soil with any chemicals.  So far the raised beds have allowed for easy planting, tending and picking since all the plants are easily within reach.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes about the ease in which raised beds can be prepared for the next growing season in The River Cottage Year, “If you can avoid soil compacting for the whole growing season, and keep the bed relatively weed-free, then the only digging necessary in preparation for the next season is to mix in a hefty does of well rotted compost or animal muck.” About a month ago, Steve mixed in some animal muck courtesy of some local horses…it should nicely nourish the soil for this year’s planting.

Have you noticed raised beds in your area?  Are you a raised bed gardener or considering becoming one?

Five First Impressions

13 Apr
by Francine

I made it!  My travels went smashingly and my unpacking has only resulted in piles of colourful clothing…getting some wardrobes is weekend project #1.

I thought I’d share with you a some of my first impressions.

1.  The word ‘daddy’ sounds exceedingly cuter when spoken with a tiny English accent.

2.  The standard British supermarket sells a wide variety of meat products. In the US, chicken and maybe turkey are the only birds you’ll find in the poultry section of a major supermarket. 

Here there are duck legs, whole ducks, whole guinea fowls even poussins, which I had to goggle to find out are chickens less than 28 days at slaughter!  And there are rows and rows of bacon. 

There are also more baked beans for sale then I’ve seen in my entire life; I guess it makes sense because (baked) beans and toast is a common thing to eat for breakfast. (I don’t think I’ll be adapting that tradition.)

3.  The cars are teeny.  I keep expecting Mr. Bean to crawl out of one.

4.  The spring flowers and greenery is lovely.  Tulips and daffodils are proudly lining up everywhere.

5.  There are lots of chimneys.

A photo of some houses

Have you visited or lived in England?  What were your first impressions?

Real Men Can Cook

12 Apr
by Deanne

Our son/brother, Luke, has an online cooking show, which is aimed at helping busy young professionals learn some cooking techniques.  It’s fast paced, spoken in the language of (video) gamers and delivers knock out recipes.

His show is now being featured on Primer, an online magazine for young men in their twenties.  Check out the magazine and his premier post

It’s exciting that there’s an interest among young men to learn more about home cooking.  We can’t wait to see what’s next for him and for all the men out there who are finding their way around their home kitchens.

Letting Go, A Mother’s Quest

10 Apr
by Deanne

People often ask me if I am having a hard time since my daughter is moving to England.

Since the question is usually asked by a mother, I am sensitive to the fact that it is not really about me and how I am doing, but about the mother asking the question…no doubt, she is acutely aware that her child will leave at some point and she’s imagining how difficult it would/will be to have her child move very far away.

Yes, it is a fact of life that our children leave. In reality, it does bring tears to my eyes. The tears, however, are full of all kinds of emotions, sometimes sad and sometimes welling with peace and hope.

Like most parents, the letting go began when I dropped her off for her first day of kindergarten.

The leaving progressed to waving goodbye as she rode a bus to summer camp and then in high school took planes two separate summers to two far off lands: El Salvador and Romania for volunteer service trips.

A particularly hard good bye was only about 40 miles away from our home on a late August afternoon when she settled into very urban neighborhood in North Philly during her college years. Driving away from a part of town that I did not even want to return to was frightening. I did return and learned to be comfortable. I visited the inner city school where she worked as a reading tutor and sat on her front stoop. To be honest Francine’s wanderings and yearnings have pushed me to grow in ways I didn’t intend or ever even imagine.

The next departure was a happy one when she left for Finland to be an au pair. She was living her dream and truly on her own after college. Dad, brother and I drove her to the Newark Airport and watched her walk confidently down a long corridor on the other side of security.

Each time she left, she came back. It was a given that we would see her again.

By far, the saddest departure was oA photo in the airportn Mother’s Day 2009 when for reasons both of us didn’t really understand and discuss at the time, she felt estranged from us, and left for Vietnam and China. My heart didn’t know if she was coming back and I sensed that she was in some kind of nameless pain. However, my job is not to make my child happy or to solve her inner turmoil. My job is to let go and trust that she will find her way. There was not a day that she wandered away from my thoughts, but I did trust that she would find peace.

When she came back she was in love. I silently watched her joy and anticipation as she planned a trip to India to be with her new love. That was an exciting year because we got to meet Scott when he came to visit us. We too found we had a fondness for this particular Englishman. In March 2011, she left for China again to teach and be with Scott.

Since September, Francine has been with us and we have truly enjoyed tapping into her talents to help us at our family restaurant. We’ve laughed and cried through the ups and downs of waiting for her next adventure to begin. On Sunday the time finally came to watch her make her way through security, this time the departure was the Minneapolis airport and the destination was her new home in England.

Am I sad? No doubt. Am I proud? Surely. Am I full of peace and hope….YES!

Are there any other mothers out there who have felt the same way?  Any mothers anticipating a letting go?

Off to England!

6 Apr
by Francine

A photo of paperworkThe time has finally come for me to start my next adventure!  I’m moving to England to join my guy.  We haven’t seen each other for 7 months(!!).  I’m pretty darn excited and I’m super thankful that our time apart is over (and very thankful for all he’s done to prepare things in England for us).

While I’m terribly excited to start this new phase of life, it’s bittersweet.  I’ve gotten to know my parents’ little town, enjoyed serving customers at the Solar, helped get FarmerChef specials started, harvested spinach in the winter, laughed a lot with my little brother, made lots of tasty food, attended the local quilting club and spent countless hours on Skype. 

A photo of the lamb saladA few weeks ago, some local ladies surprised me by throwing a lovely spring shower in my honor.  We had a delightful lamb salad and lots of wine. :)  I was so touched by their kindness!

I will definitely continue this blogging project with my mom but only now we’ll be an ocean apart.  I look forward to sharing with you all the things I’m learning and discovering in England.  I’m sure there will be many girly shrieks as I get used to riding and driving on the wrong/right side of the road.  And of course, there will be lots of hugs and many smiles.

Wherever in the world you are reading this this, I wish you much happiness and springtime sunshine!