Monday, June 27, 2011

The Honey-Laundry-Peanut Butter Connection

This all started when my son peed the bed.

He's two years old. These things happen. But throwing his laundry in the wash the next morning (he slept the rest of the night with us. I couldn't be bothered with 3 am laundry.), the sun was out, the birds were chirping, and I thought it was high-time to get out the clothesline.

I love hanging clothes on the line to dry. I love the rhythm of it - reach, shake, hang, clip, clip; reach, shake, hang, clip, clip; reach, shake, hang, clip, clip. I love the look of it, gazing out my back window and seeing those colors waving in the breeze. I love the energy efficiency of it and lately, I've been thinking more and more about the health benefits of it.

The other day, I was talking about kids and allergies with another parent. She told me a trick her sister swears by: to battle allergies, eat local honey. Something about the bees, the pollen, and how consuming honey exposes your body to all those local plants and helps your body develop immunity against them. I'm not a doctor and frankly science hasn't proven it, but lots of people swear by it. Call it the placebo effect, call it what you will, but maybe there's something to it.

I apply the same theory to child rearing, our laundry and our diet. With allergy sensitivity doubling in the past 30 years, and kids increasingly being affected, I let Ben play in the mud. I make sure he interacts with lots of furry animals. To be honest, I've caught him eating dirt a few times and didn't think it was a big deal. Instead of sheltering the poor kid, I try to get him outside and exposed to lots of different things.

When it comes to laundry, I figure letting our clothes air outside picks up little tiny bits of pollen and whatever else may be floating in the air and I'm glad of it, since a perfectly sterile world is no world at all. Plus, it's just so cute to see all of little Ben's tiny jeans lined up out there. Granted, if you already have allergies like my neighbors, drying laundry outside is a sure way to start a terrible day. But doesn't it make you wonder if all those dryer sheets and lack of exposure outdoors cause some of our allergy problems?

When it comes to food, variety is the name of my shopping game. Instead of constantly buying peanut butter, I'll mix it up with almond butter, apple butter, or my favorite North Dakota-made Sunbutter, made with sunflower seeds. Us North Dakotans are blessed to live in the bread basket of America, but instead of just wheat flour and pasta all the time, sometimes I'll pick up rice noodles, teff flour, quinoa, barley, anything different.

I'm no doctor, but I think there may be something to all this.  Or I could be a complete whack job. What do you think? Better yet, I probably don't want to know if you think I'm nutso. But I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about all this. However, even if I found out tomorrow that my honey-laundry-peanut butter connection was just bunk, I probably wouldn't change a darn thing and you'll still find me in the backyard, hanging the wash.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Indian-Style Sauté of Cauliflower and Greens

My first CSA pick-up! I cruised down to Riverbound Farm and gathered up some lovely radishes, lettuces, and bok choy. I'm already swimming in radishes from my garden, so I swapped some radishes for extra bok choy, came home and made myself a veggie-rific sauté.

Kent and Ben went up to the lake this weekend to hang out with Kent's folks. The idea of a weekend to myself was irresistible, so I stayed home and went rollerblading, watched a movie, got my hair done, bought a new summer dress, cleaned out a closet, called a few long-distance friends, stayed up late reading - all of those simple pleasures that I typically set aside when child is underfoot. I can't begin to explain how rejuvenating it felt.

In the kitchen, I notice that when I'm home alone, my former vegetarian self reemerges in that I never cook meat for myself. Ever. The thought doesn't even cross my mind, since all our meat is in the freezer and requires some planning to thaw it out and have it ready to cook by dinnertime. Instead, I find myself making big salads, eating lots of fruit, maybe cheese and crackers, and sometimes just a big mass of cooked veggies like this dish. Add in the fact that our tiny refrigerator was crammed with greens and a head of cauliflower and, well, this dish kept me sustained throughout my wonderful, quiet, leisurely, classic North Dakota summer weekend.

Indian-Style Sauté of Cauliflower and Greens
Adapted from Deborah Madison's behemoth cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  I picked it up at a library book sale where you pay by the pound, so in the library book sale world, it was a splurge, but well worth it. I didn't have any cilantro when I made this, but wish I would've - it will add a nice extra layer of flavor to the dish.

3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup butter or ghee
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 small cauliflower, quartered and thinly sliced, including stem
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
8 ounces baby spinach
1 bunch bok choy, chopped
juice of 1 lime
several pinches of Garam Masala or curry powder
peanuts and cilantro sprigs for garnish

Steam the potatoes until tender.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté until well browned, about 12 minutes.  Remove and set aside.  Melt the remaining butter in the same pan over high heat.  Add the cauliflower, season with salt, and sauté until it begins to color in places, after a few minutes.  Return the onion to the pan and add the garlic, spices, and potatoes.  Lower the heat and cook until everything is heated through, about 4 minutes.  Add the greens and 1/2 cup water.  Cover and cook until the greens are wilted, about a minute.  Season with lime juice and a few pinches garam masala, then turn onto a platter and garnish with peanuts and cilantro.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dakota Hills Winery

 Driving on Highway 2 east of Rugby, if you blink you'll miss the Dakota Hills Winery turn-off.

That's it.  Just a faded sign pointing you down a bumpy gravel road at mile marker 222.  

Let's talk about gravel roads for a second.  I tend to fly down gravel roads in my little Japanese car.  As I grow older, I become more and more aware how unsafe this is.  I mean really, you'd think I thought I was invincible or something.  That's so 2003 of me.  

Case in point: cruising down this particular gravel road, I hit a bump.  A big bump.  It smacks the undercarriage hard enough to make me wonder if I'm going to lose some important car parts, like a defibrulator or a car-starter-upper or something like that.  Worse yet, there is high marshy water on both sides of this one-lane gravel road, so that bump pushes my car in a different direction on a very narrow road with uncertain traction underneath.  I barely avoided dunking myself in the watery swamps off the edge of the road. 

Lesson learned. Now we return to our relaxing, regularly scheduled wine discussion.

I eased up on the accelerator a bit for the rest of my journey to Dakota Hills, which included a cruise through a crop field to avoid a lake that decided to take residence in the middle of another road.  If you thought gravel roads were exciting, take your little Jap car through a field. I highly recommend it. 

Dakota Hills Winery is a small farm and visitors are encouraged to bring the kids and pet the farm animals. They grow most of the fruit used in the wines: grapes, apples, plums, rhubarb, crabapples, cherries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, jostaberries, snozberries...

This llama was my greeter, the first being I saw pulling up to the farm.  I think I caught her sleeping on the job. 

The owners are truly happy to receive guests.  Kids run off to explore the barn while adult visitors are welcomed to try wine samples.  Traditionally, wine in North Dakota basically means Mogen David, so I'm sure their broad selection of sweet and semi-sweet wines are made with the local palate in mind. My favorite sweet wine of theirs was Raspberry - they literally pick hundreds of pounds of raspberries to make it.  It's a magical nectar.  

I usually drink a dry wine and sometimes dry wines from regional wineries can come off a bit harsh, but I was surprised to find their drier wines like Prairie Sunset and Northern Lights were really good, too.  The wines are juicy, none of the full, almost chewy body of, say, a deep French Cabernet, so wine snobs beware, but Dakota Hills is doing a great job with what they've got. Buying direct on the farm, a bottle will set you back $15, a steal of a deal in mind.  

I don't know if it was the wine, the sweet country air, or all of those adorable farm animals, but there was something about my visit to Dakota Hills that make me want to slow down. For a moment, I felt reconnected, grounded, and reverent for life and the world I live in.  I headed back down the gravel roads and through the fields at a more leisurely pace this time. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Upside-Down Rhubarb Cake

I made this cake expecting it to last us two, maybe three days of nibbling and dessert after dinner. Between hubby, me, and little Ben, it was demolished in two hours. I kid you not. Who knew that Ben was such a fan of upside-down rhubarb cake to eat the whole thing himself!  Ok, I may have had a sliver...

I love love love cakes that can be cake without frosting, subtly sweet and heartier than powder-puff supermarket cake. This cake is most definitely worthy of a little cake love. The fact that this cake has oatmeal in it AND is baked in a cast-iron pan - sorry if I peed myself a little in all the excitement of it. I am 30 now. Incontinence happens.

So that whole thing I said earlier in my rhubarb jam post about me only making rhubarb recipes that use up a TON of rhubarb? Ignore that. Forget I ever said that. This cake only uses 2 and 1/4 cups of rhubarb (tee-hee!  1/4 cup! Like that makes a huge difference in my measure-rhubarb-by-the-pound world), but it's totally worth it.  Thanks so much to Al for recommending it.

Forgive me my laziness and click here for the recipe.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rising Waters

I've seen amazing sights these past few days. Neighbors helping neighbors. Strangers helping strangers. People straining their arms and backs to fill and haul millions of heavy sandbags. Workplaces asking their employees to leave to help the flood effort.  Entire cities coming together for the betterment of the community to help protect hundreds of homes, schools, and churches in Bismarck-Mandan.

We're learning a valuable lesson that you may be able to dam a river, but you can never truly tame it. Living next to the Missouri is like having a pet tiger - fun and exotic, but still a tiger.  Even for people like myself who live outside of the flood zone, everyone has friends, family, co-workers who are scheduled to be underwater next week and are plugging drains, moving furniture, and building dikes.  While helping the effort, I tell myself, "It's just stuff, no one is going to die from this, in the big picture it really doesn't matter."  But it's hard to say that to a family I've known for half of my 30 years while packing up their family photo albums, a swirling river just yards away and creeping ever closer.

However, seeing everyone come together during the impending flood, I've never been more proud to be part of this community, and I'm certain we're going to come out of this stronger than ever with (I hope) a renewed respect for the life-giving river that sustains us.

The spillway gates at the dam were opened this morning. In the next 36 hours, we'll see if all our work will hold back the rising waters.