How is it almost Easter already? I mean, seriously. Time needs to slow the train down. Despite the fact that this holiday often sneaks up on me, Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays when it comes to food. We are creatures of habit on my fathers side of the family and our spread always includes my grandma’s deviled eggs, my aunt Joanne’s sticky caramel rolls, my uncle Steve’s Bloody Marys and, of course, lots of locally made sausage and a glazed ham.
Truth time: When I growing up in Minnesota, I think I stuffed my face the most at Easter. To an embarrassing degree.
Ok, glad I got that off my chest. I feel like we are closer now, you and I. Yes?
One of the reasons I love cooking is because I get to take pieces of my life and bring them together when they might otherwise remain separate entities. Here, I’ve taken deviled eggs, which will forever and always make me think of my grandmother, and added ingredients that reflect our time spent in Japan. White miso paste, hot mustard, and shichimi togarashi come together in these eggs to create something new for your Easter brunch. A couple of these alongside my Japanese Bloody Mary would be absolute perfection.
Another change I made to these eggs was using Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise. I think Greek yogurt gives the yolk mixtures a lighter, fluffier consistency that is a welcome contrast to the bold flavor of miso and hot mustard. I used Tillamook Farmstyle Greek Yogurt, which is mellow and creamy and absolutely perfect in these deviled eggs.
The icing on the cake? Fresh chives cut directly from my garden. Glorious.
I started planting some seeds yesterday. San Marzano tomatoes, basil, bibb lettuce, chard, kale and radishes, to be exact. Last year, thought my intentions were good, I had to buy starter plants for every single thing we grew. The reason, you ask? Our beautiful, obnoxious, and far too curious black lab decided to tear up my seed trays last spring. Twice. So I eventually gave up and decided seeds were not in the cards for us just yet. I planted 28 tomato plants. No, I don’t know where they will all go just yet. I think I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it since there’s no guarantee all the seeds will become actual plants. While I don’t think my thumb is black, it is not bright green. Gardening does not come easily to me and I’ve had quite a few mishaps. Baby steps.
Not only is it the season for gardening, we are heading into prime brunch season. Mimosas, Bloody Marys, various cheesy, hot sauce speckled, buttery egg dishes, bacon, and cinnamon rolls galore. Oh…healthy things too. None are coming to mind though.
I first made a version of these Japanese Bloody Marys in 2009. We were in Tokyo, Japan and had survived our first 6 months living a world away from all the things we knew and all the people we loved. Fortunately, we had quickly developed a Tokyo ‘family’ with whom we celebrated Easter. We spent the day on the banks of the Tamagawa, a river not far from the school where we all taught. We grilled, drank, laughed, and got minor sunburns. It was a fantastic day.
We just returned from a week in Iowa/Minnesota. We drove. Did you know that there is a lot of Nebraska out there? And it all mostly looks the same? I’m sure it’s a lovely state in some respects but when you’re driving from Denver to Minneapolis it can be hard to see anything but the backs of your eyelids. Am I wrong?
It was all worth it to get to Minnesota though…
I’m not going to paint a rosy-colored picture for you when it comes to road-tripping with a 2 year old. It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t always pretty. This time was worlds easier than the first road trip when Riley was only a year and a half old. This time we were able to play games like “I Spy”, he was able to color without immediately dropping all the crayons and his coloring book on the floor, and a simple handful of cheese crackers kept him happy for at least 10 minutes at a time. Huge improvements. Seriously.
And yes. We let him watch some educational shows on our iPad. With a child who refuses to sleep in the car this is sometimes the only way I can keep myself sane.
The first family vacation we took as a threesome was when we visited Kyoto, Japan. Riley was almost 4 months old and I remember looking at his peaceful little face as he snoozed away on the Shinkansen. We strapped him into his carrier and explored some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Riley fell asleep in the peaceful bamboo forest, played on the tatami mats at restaurants while we slurped noodles and dipped tempura, and flirted with anyone and everyone who would pay attention to him.
It was a wonderful, joyful trip as you can probably tell from the above photo. Plus, in Japan, we were never far away from a place that served incredible food. Handmade inarizushi, comforting Japanese curry, and big bowls of ramen were always around to fill our stomachs and keep us going. Unfortunately, the same is not true when driving through the Midwest in the United States. Rather than giving in to the many fast-food chains at each and every exit along the interstate, I wanted to give you some other options that will make you feel better about what you’re putting in your body.
Sweet, salty, and healthy. This is an ideal alternative to heavy pasta salads that travels well. Pack the salad in mason jars for easy, spill proof storage and keep in a cooler.
2. Irish Soda Bread with Dried Fruit & Nuts
There is no denying bread’s status as a great comfort food. Slice the bread and put it in an airtight container before you start your drive. Add a little almond butter and you’ve got a protein-filled snack to get you through those long hours of driving.
These chocolate-dipped macaroons are the perfect 2-bite treats for long car trips. They are reasonably healthy and last for 2-3 days in an airtight container. No need to stick in the cooler UNLESS you are driving during a really warm time of year. In that case, stick ‘em in the cooler so they don’t melt everywhere. Got it? Good.
I never tire of visiting Minnesota. Maybe everyone feels that way about their home state. When we moved to Japan I felt like the missing would never cease. As it turns out, I was right. Four years in Tokyo followed by nearly 2 in Colorado and I still miss it. What I realize more and more every time is that leaving my home state means leaving my family, which gets harder each time. Instead of being sad about it, I am focusing on the fact that I have a family and a childhood home that are hard to leave.
When we moved into our house in Denver, my parents came to visit. My dad brought us a bottle of 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, which is made at a distillery in Ireland. (It was only distributed in Minnesota in the beginning, though now it is available nationwide.) We lit a fire in our chiminea and stood outside, the hum of the nearby freeway ringing through the night sky, and toasted to our new home with a round of Big Gingers and an Irish blessing.
Creating a successful road trip with a toddler is a little bit like recipe testing. You have to find the right combination of ingredients, then test each amount. Eventually, you realize that you only need a pinch of this, a handful of that, and to mix it all roughly with your hands. Rather than an exact recipe, it’s similar to making dough. You have to know it and understand it by touch, feel, and sometimes sound.
The first day of our last road trip, if it were to be compared to dough, didn’t rise. Instead, we began the day with our dog bolting out the door of our mini van (I still can’t believe we drive one of those- apparently she wanted nothing to do with it), and getting just barely hit by a car. Yep. A car actually hit her. Fortunately, it was early enough in the morning that there was little traffic and the cars that were on the road had plenty of time to slow down so she didn’t get hurt. I’m just gonna throw this out there: worst start to a road trip ever.
The rest of the day was filled with lots of crying from our then 1 1/2 year old in the back seat. He didn’t sleep one wink from 6am until 9pm. It was a long day and we were all pretty ragged by the end of it. Problem #1: we wanted to be the parents who didn’t resort to TV shows to survive a road trip. I never had that growing up, why should Riley? But then I realized most of my road-tripping happened when I was old enough to entertain myself, chose to sleep in the car, and read books. This time, we allowed a little TV near the end of the day- Sesame Street, Land Before Time and Daniel Tiger - in the hopes that it would keep us all a bit more sane. That, combined with introducing new toys every couple of hours and pulling off of the interstate to get out and stretch our legs for a few minutes, gave us a 1,000% improved day of driving.
Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Right?
When it comes right down to it, anything that gets us from Colorado to Iowa en route to Minnesota for moments like this is completely worth it…
So, can we move on to this Kale & Parsley Pesto? OK. Let’s do it.
We had a truly wonderful spring day on Wednesday. The sun was full of enough warmth to take away the need for a sweater or jacket. The moment I felt the heat hit my skin I felt instantly rejuvenated. Riley and I went to the park where he discovered the joy of watching bugs crawl on the sidewalk. As I watched him discover new things that only come with the changing seasons I realized how much he has grown. Last year at this time I was watching him clumsily walk around as he discovered that moving one step in front of the other brought him from here to there and back again. Those sweet baby legs are now little boy legs. He has grown faster than I’m willing to acknowledge most of the time.
Luckily, each new stage brings even more sweetness than my heart can hold (even in the midst of the toddler mood swings that come with being 2 years old).
Today I found some green, pointy hyacinth leaves coming up out of the soil in our backyard. They were in a place I had forgotten about completely. I carefully cleared away some of the debris that was covering the tender new leaves so I could more clearly see them, imagining what they would look like in each stage of growth, all the while relishing the feeling of dirt under my finger nails. Spring is such a lovely time of year, even when it takes its sweet time getting here.
The weather may not be all that spring-like just yet, aside form a day or two here and there, but I’m starting to incorporate more seasonally appropriate food into our rotation. This quinoa salad, studded with bright green sweet peas, salty bacon, and sweet golden raisins is perfection. It was kind of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of concoction, but it turned out so well. I made a flavorful and bright dressing with lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and lots of fresh herbs to bring even more freshness. It’s been a delicious lunch this week and I know I’ll be making various versions of it in the future.
Before I get into a summary of my experience going sugar free, let’s chat about this date simple syrup.
Going sugar free is tricky when you blog about cocktails each and every week. Simple syrup, one of the staple ingredients when it comes to cocktails, is difficult to avoid entirely. Fortunately, I found a way to add sweetness without even the smallest pinch of refined sugar. This simple syrup is simply (no pun intended) dates that have been simmered in water until it has been infused with sweetness. The consistency is not as thick as a traditional simple syrup, but the sweetness is there. And that’s the most important part, right? It does have a slightly nutty flavor, similar to that of brown sugar, but it is subtle enough that it can be used in most cocktail recipes.
Dates have been one of the most versatile and delicious additions to my list of staple ingredients to have in the kitchen. They make a perfect, sweet snack paired with a little bit of blue cheese and act as a healthy sweetener for anything from this syrup to this peanut butter bulgur wheat (pictured below).
As a food blogger, I like to feel like I have control over everything I put in my body, but the reality is that sometimes…I don’t. A lot of my time outside of food blogging and recipe development is spent focusing on feeding my 2 year old something that involves more than crackers, popcorn, toast and milk. That takes a surprising amount of energy now that he’s learned to reject anything he doesn’t recognize. When all is said and done, I don’t always have much motivation to focus on what gets put on my own plate.
When I started the Go Sugar Free course I was scared. It was scary because I didn’t want to give anything up. Well, I did want to but the thought of it really seriously scared me. What would happen if I went to a birthday party and had to say no to the chocolate cake with rich butter cream frosting? What would I do without my sweet cocktails and occasional bite of ice cream? I was happy to learn that, even though my sugar habit was not extreme, I was able to go without it and still survive.
Sometimes I have assignments to develop recipes. Developing recipes requires tasting. Sometimes that meant eating sugar even during the course, which is not a typical situation for most students. I think it is a testament to Jacqueline and her course that I was able to get through those moments without completely falling off the wagon.
I am ready for Spring now. It was warm and sunny yesterday and I thought I was going to burst with happiness despite my lack of sleep thanks to a late night ER trip with our little guy who has croup. (All is well now – just waiting it out at this point.) Don’t get me wrong. I still love winter and won’t complain when we get our inch of slushy stuff tomorrow, but there comes a time in the year when I, along with everyone else, am ready for things to grow and be green. Or as green as things can be here in Colorado.
So, although St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone, I have another green cocktail to share with you in honor of Spring. Admittedly, this is not a convenient cocktail to just whip up. I made some zucchini-farro cakes the other night and the recipe required me to shred 2 1/2 pounds of zucchini, sprinkle with salt, then squeeze out the extra juice. I saved the juice because it was so vibrant and beautiful it just broke my heart a little to think of discarding it without a second thought.
I’m learning that this time of year is a little crazy here in Colorado. One day it is a bright, sunny 70 degrees and the next brings piles of wet, heavy snow. I kind of love it. I’m a winter girl who loves being cozy in the house with something delicious cooking on the stove or in the oven. But I also get to the point where vitamin D is a necessity. And it must be in the form of beautiful, hot rays of real live sunshine.
Spring in Colorado also means that crazy hot weather is not far behind. Last year it was far too warm to use the oven in our house. (We have a tiny swamp cooler that barely keeps half of the house at a comfortable temperature.) So, I’m trying to get all the oven time that I can under my belt before it’s too much to bear. This means baking buttermilk drop biscuits, Irish soda bread, and roasting lots of vegetables. This soup was the result of a big sheet pan of carrots, onions, and garlic that I drizzled with honey and roasted for about an hour. Everything was perfectly soft and golden brown with a honey glaze that gave a subtle sweetness to offset the rich roasted flavor.