Entries Tagged as 'Minnesota'

Tomatillo Salsa

Thursday, August 28, 2014

tomatillo salsa

I started writing this post from Annie’s couch in Harlem. A breeze would pass through the apartment, carrying the sound of someone’s saxophone or the distant wail of a siren, and if you folded yourself into her living room windowsill, you could gaze down on her neighbors’ plant-filled, walled-in urban retreat of a patio. We hadn’t started packing her things yet, and she was all knotted up over her decision to leave New York. On the inside, I was pitching a fit over the possibility of returning to Minnesota alone, with the deposit on our apartment already paid. Those eight days were tough. Toss together two longtime friends, both of whom have their own complicated relationship with New York, as anyone with New York history does, add in the weight of moving, quitting jobs, saying goodbye, starting over, seeking closure, and the probability of a blowup is all but marked in stone. Today that trip seems part of a past life, which makes it all the harder to believe that I’m writing this now from our new apartment in Minneapolis.

minneapolis apartment_1

minneapolis apartment_3

minneapolis apartment_4

When Annie and I decided to live together, I wasn’t positive it was the best move. I’d been living with people my whole life, and I was very much ready to have my own space. Annie, on the other hand, was used to living alone. Above all, though, we both saw it as a now-or-never type of chance, a challenge, for sure, but one that we both wanted to risk taking rather than missing. I’d stalk Craigslist for apartments, she’d send me links to places she’d found and I’d make appointments to view them. On Google Chat one day, we sent each other the same link at the same time for a duplex in South Minneapolis. Six weeks later, we moved in.

First we had to get her out of the clutches of New York. And what the hell, I thought, why not make a trip out of it? I booked a one-way ticket and flew out on a Tuesday, the first of eight consecutive days of summer perfection. She met me at the corner of 125th and Lenox, and when I saw her standing there, she was a woman who’d melded to the city’s pace.

One night at dusk, we crossed the Triborough Bridge in her friend Bri’s car to eat Peruvian while Bri called every fifth driver a motherfucker for driving like one. I liked her immediately. Bri is all heart, tough as nails, and just shy of a hundred pounds. She came over the next night and taught us how to fry cabbage the Deep South way with bacon and onions. Cal and Brandon came too, and Cal made his mother’s famous fried chicken, a recipe he’s known how to cook since he could reach the counter to season the flour. We piled on Annie’s couch and chowed until it was time to fry a second batch. Annie and I got dressed up on Sunday morning and loped to Abyssinian Baptist Church, craving gospel music and ice water and sweating buckets in the heat before we’d even arrived. When we finally did, a straight-faced woman wearing pantyhose and bifocals told us services were finished for the day, so we hailed a taxi for Bloody Marys at Vinateria instead.

At the end of the week, we celebrated our survival at Red Rooster over shredded lamb tostadas topped with rosy pickled onion and dabs of grainy mustard. We drank a Savoy and a PYT and watched a wave of characters pass through the doors. The food was good, not great, but you felt the place come alive as the night wore on, and when Annie asked, “How can I leave this?” I had no answer. New York is panoptic, hypnotic, and much sexier when you’re away or on your way out. Like any love/hate relationship, New York is a place you can’t fully appreciate until you no longer wake up to it everyday.   

minneapolis apartment_2Annie wavered between staying and going up until the very morning we left. I told her I’d be okay if she changed her mind, and that was mostly true, or would have been eventually. She told me she’d made a commitment to me. That meant something, even if it felt heavier than what I’d bargained for. In the end, we packed up the moving truck with the help of Bri and three guys from Bri’s security staff. With Annie at the wheel, we pulled away from the curb and sailed down Seventh Avenue to Iggy Azalea like the whole trip was already in the bag. Ten minutes later we were in a tunnel, then a bridge four or forty lanes across when the first of several truck drivers honked and yelled that our back ramp was down. Within seconds, we were protected on all sides by a fleet of semis until we could exit, pull off to the shoulder and assess the situation, first panicking, later cackling like a couple of once-wild grandmothers with stories of skirting the law. After nine hours of driving, we stopped somewhere in northern Ohio, checked into a Super 8, and walked to the Lone Tree Tavern next door through a field of grass with a walking path carved for truck drivers who likely kept both places in business. Tom was the front desk manager and a retired principal with a few opinions on migrating west, all of them favorable. At that hour, whether or not Annie found them comforting was moot.

It took another fifteen hours to reach home, and it was after midnight at the start of the third day when we did. I told Annie I felt like I’d left a critical piece of my heart behind. She said she thought she’d made a mistake, and we laid in bed staring at the ceiling, exhausted, dejected, and confused. We slept hard, woke up early, and drove the truck to the new apartment to meet a crew of family and friends who gave up their Saturday morning to help us move. My brothers got straight to work by opening all the windows in the house for fresh air. My dad pulled the refrigerator from the wall to plug it in and tore two holes in the vinyl floor, battle scars that are going to remind us of that day every time we see them. Annie’s friend Jessie did most of the heavy lifting, while her dad loaded up his car with bags to donate and came over later to hang curtains and put together chairs. We unloaded Annie’s stuff, drove to my youngest brother’s apartment to pick up some of the stuff we’ll store while he lives in Phoenix, then drove back to Mary Ellen’s to load up the truck with my stuff. Brian bought us welcome back burgers and beers at Pat’s Tap when it was time for a break. Brad and Megan brought their baby over in the afternoon, Tony and Niki came with felt pads, a power drill, and a reading chair, and Tippy brought us our first plant. Long after the sun had set, we spread out at the front of the house and ordered delivery for dinner. That all of these people were so happy we were home was impossible to ignore, and I think we both fell asleep feeling lighter, protected even, which makes a hell of a difference in any sort of big life change.

Grandpa's cactus

Now that we are here, a new brand of culture shock is settling in, and that’s the kind related to stuff. Buying a sofa last week, you see, felt major. Annie keeps telling me I’ve been able to wait 31 years without buying any furniture, as if this is some stroke of good fortune! At IKEA, it was my turn to panic, and if she hadn’t have been there, I might’ve left a full cart in the checkout lane and bolted for the horizon. At this rate, I guess I should be ready for marriage by age 62?

Speaking of commitments, I walked forty-five blocks from Annie’s stoop on 133rd and Lenox to Kitchen Arts and Letters one day, and that’s where I found this recipe for tomatillo salsa. More specifically, where I found the book with this recipe, and where I decided it would be our kitchen’s bible for the upcoming winter. Annie loves Mexican, and so do I. All this late blooming must have put me in the mood to start something early, as I assure you I’m not at all ready to think about colder days. Salsas are great because you really can’t fuck them up, so long as you use prime ingredients. It never hurts to have a recipe to reference, however, and this one’s a definite keeper.

Tomatillo Salsa (makes 1 1/2 cups) from Truly Mexican
1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped, including seeds
2 tablespoons chopped white onion
1 good sized garlic clove, peeled
3/4 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Add the tomatillos to a food processor or blender, then add the rest of the ingredients. Blend until salsa is very smooth (you’ll still see the tomatillo seeds, and that’s good), at least a minute. Season to taste with additional chile and salt, and blend again. If you can make this ahead of time to let the flavors meld, do it–a few hours or an overnight makes a big difference. Serve with tortilla chips, black beans and rice, salmon, pork, chicken, roasted vegetables, or an omelette with cilantro and goat cheese.

Blueberry Pie

Sunday, August 3, 2014

blueberries box

Summer in Minnesota is a burst of perfection, and I am clinging to it with a white-knuckled grip and a pining for summers of the past. All seasons remind me of New Ulm, a small town in southeastern Minnesota where my grandmother lived in the same house until she couldn’t live alone anymore. My mom and her sisters grew up in that house, and sometimes I fantasize about knocking on the door and asking the current owners if I can take a quick walk through, just to see if I can still smell it. I’d bury my head in the coat closet and wait for the scent of mothballs and fur coats I only saw her wear in photos until the owners, reluctant but obliged, tapped me on the shoulder and said ok now, time to go. But summer, especially, is the time I miss it, her, the most. Even if she didn’t like to cook, she loved to feed, and her attention to small details at meals left an impression that rooted deep. In fact, we spent more time around my grandmother’s kitchen table than anywhere else in her house, towed back by an unseen force after too much time away. We didn’t know it then, but we were building traditions there that lately I am seeing in pieces as they surface in a flashback, a story, or a keepsake that’ll spark a memory long forgotten.


Tippy’s kitchen is built and maintained with the same traits. Petite as it is, there’s always room for everyone, and even with two people in the corner at the stove, one person at the sink, another with a chopping knife at the counter and three on chairs around her red wooden table, somehow you never feel the old, no good adage of too many cooks. No task is too grand. This speaks more to Tippy’s circuitry than the layout of her kitchen, and I can only hope to give people the same fortifying sense in my own kitchen, come the day. We make sense of our lives by building up from the foundations we were given, adding our own twists, but leaving space, always, for the traditions that were laid before us, for us. So that when the time comes, we can hand them down, and ultimately, let them live.


Last weekend, with our ticking time bomb of blueberry loot, Tippy, Laurel, and I took root in their kitchen and didn’t much move until we’d made our way through twelve and three-quarters of the thirteen pounds Laurel and I had picked days before. We chopped red pepper and minced ginger and squeezed lime for blueberry salsa. We picked lavender and steeped vanilla bean to pour over blueberries in jars for an infused, sweet and floral syrup. We folded warm blueberry sauce into wonton wrappers and fried them until they turned bubbly and crisp, then tore them apart too soon, too hungry to wait. Mike, Tippy’s oldest son, left a box of homebrewed ale in the basement, and that saved the Sunday when liquor stores are closed in Minnesota. We upended four bottles in a stockpot with sugar, lemon, allspice, and star anise, then mixed in red onion and whole berries and boiled it all until it gleamed to a thick, textured jam. We made our grandma’s strawberry honey, sub blueberries, and a hot chutney with curry, dried currants, and jalapeno. We made pies that we took breaks to eat by the forkful straight from the pan.

blueberry wash

The two pie recipes we used were about as different as they could be. Rush River’s version is mostly uncooked and totally uncovered, so that the whole berries maintain their shape and texture, and pop with each bite–sweet, tart, uncompromised. First you make a sauce with sugar, water, and a cup of blueberries that you let simmer away for what seems like eternity until the berries break down and the color turns definitively purple. The Gold Standard of Purple, it is a vision worth waiting for. Then you let it cool, fold in the rest of the blueberries, pour it all into a prebaked 9-inch pie shell, and let it chill (if you can stand waiting). We used a crust recipe aptly named, “Mom’s Pie Crust,” which has been handed down from mothers to daughters in our family, and of whose original identity is unknown. It is a dump crust that calls for corn oil, because that’s what Tippy’s mom uses, and what our grandmother used, what her mother used, and so on, and it just never occurred to anybody to write in an alternative suggestion.

The second pie is from Lan, who I’ve met virtually by way of her captivating, redolent photos. Her interpretation of food is striking, both the recipes she chooses and the way she presents them through her lens, and so when she endorsed her husband’s go-to recipe for pie, I knew it was going to be good. With this recipe, you pulse together a crust of flour, orange zest, pecans, butter (or a vegan alternative) and sugar, and then you dribble in cold vodka and pulse again. Vodka evaporates quickly, resulting in a very flaky, tender crust, and leaves no trace of itself behind. Once you’ve chilled and rolled out the crust in a deep dish pan, you mix together some cornstarch, orange juice, flour, sugar, and blueberries and pour that on top of the crust. You top it with a crumbly sprinkle of oats, cinnamon, sugar, and fat (she uses coconut oil, we used butter) and bake it until the top is golden. A slice of warm pie she told me, is excellent with coconut cream or vanilla ice cream. She was right about that, too. See the full recipe here, and her blog, More Stomach, here.

Now go get yourself some blueberries, and hurry.

Blueberry Pie (from Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, where we also picked all our berries)

9″ Pie Crust**
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons all purpose flour, unbleached
4 cups fresh blueberries
Pinch of salt

Mix the cold 1/4 cup of water with the flour and salt to make a smooth batter. Boil 1 cup of blueberries with the 1/2 cup of water and all the sugar. Add batter and stir with a whisk until it thickens. Remove from heat and let cool. Once it’s cool, fold in the remaining 3 cups of fresh blueberries and pour into the pre-baked pie shell.** Chill.

**Mom’s Pie Crust recipe:
Sift these into a pie tin:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, unbleached
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup corn oil (or a different neutral oil of your choice) with 2 tablespoons of milk. Pour liquid into the center of the flour mix. Mix with a fork. Spread with your fingers across the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan. Prick with a fork all around. For pre-bakes, bake at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.

Grilled BLTs

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I made bibimbap for my cousin, Tippy, today and it fully, totally, perfectly sucked. The rice was undercooked to a waterlogged chew. The kale was sauteed to a soggy limp, and even the kimchi to end all kimchi was off. If the rice is right, bibimbap is hard to get wrong, and since it was Tippy’s first time trying bibimbap, I wanted it to be fucking great. When it wasn’t, I was depressed. Still, she ate it with the kind of appreciation reserved for breakfast in bed, for coffee first thing in the morning from anyone. For her, it was the gesture of someone else cooking that made it special, and when she told me this exactly, I thought of sandwiches. Nothing but a sandwich is as delicious when made by someone else, but in case there are any skeptics out there, I’d be willing to put this to the test. We’ll need four slices of bread, some bacon, a tomato, and you. You’ll make a sandwich, I’ll make a sandwich, then we’ll swap and prove this theory like reasonable adults. What say you?

(say yes)

Tippy’s daughter Laurel and I picked blueberries yesterday, and we spent the rest of today baking two very different pies. They turned out much better than the bibimbap, thank Christ. One or both of those recipes is coming up next, I promise, but until then, go and make yourself (or someone else) a sandwich. Make it a BLT, the quintessential food of summer while tomatoes and basil are peak fresh. You don’t need a recipe for a good BLT, but if you’re looking to put a spin on things, try grilling it. Right up there with a sandwich from another, I bet you’ll find it tastes better than ever.

Grilled BLTs (makes 4)

8 slices pumpernickel or whole wheat bread
9-12 slices bacon
8 slices of mixed heirloom tomatoes (or the tastiest tomatoes you can find)
Green lettuce
1/4 cup creme fraiche or mayonnaise
Handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1 Lemon (1 tablespoon zest + 1 tablespoon juice)
1/4 cup or more olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper to taste

While your grill is preheating, make a BLT sauce. This is essential, like a good sauce for any good sandwich. Season your creme fraiche or mayo by adding it to a bowl with the lemon parts, torn basil, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Place slices of bacon on the grill, but away from any direct flames. Cook until crispy.

Brush thick slices of tomato with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until both sides have broken down and shriveled slightly.

Grill slices of bread on both sides, and while they’re still warm, rub garlic over one side of each slice. Then slather same side of each slice with BLT sauce. Layer the tomato, bacon, and lettuce, and top with another slice of grilled bread.

“I believe in love like a flower bud might believe in Buddha. But, then, I’m a romantic, and you know that because in the last presidential election I voted for Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
” – Jarod Kintz

Bloody Mary Hummus

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bloody Mary Hummus

Hummus is one of those foods that’s hard to improve upon, when it’s perfect. When hummus is right, it is feather-light and smooth as silk, vanilla blonde in color. My hummus often comes out dense, chalky, and mottled with chickpea bits, but this never stops me from finishing the batch, often in one sitting, because it usually still tastes good. Not perfect, but good enough to eat.

So far as I can tell, great hummus needs chickpeas with their skins removed, whether dried or canned, enough liquid to thin it out, and a machine strong enough to blend it smooth, which sounds obvious, but still took me awhile to land upon. The perfect Bloody Mary is another favorite thing, and that’s how this recipe came to be. Two favorite foods, combined. Can you mess with the classics? Or better yet, should you? The same reason to do so could be the same for why not to: Life’s short.

Let’s get to it. Happy weekend.

Bloody Mary Hummus

1 15 oz can chickpeas or 1.5 cups cooked dried chickpeas (skins removed)*
1 large clove garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ packed cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
½ tomato, peeled and cut into chunks**
2 tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Tobasco
dash olive brine***
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving

In a food processor, pulse all ingredients except olive oil until incorporated. With speed on high, pour in a steady stream the olive oil and continue to blend for a few minutes until smooth.

Garnish: more olive oil, crushed red pepper, radish, olives. Serve with celery, shrimp, or any other of your favorite additions.

*Whether using dried or canned chickpeas, if you take off their skins, your hummus will be smoother. I’d never done this before now, but it makes a gigantic difference. Squeeze each bean between your fingers, and the skin pops off easily. A tedious task, but very much worth it.

**Used to get a headier tomato flavor, and also to add liquid.

***If using dried chickpeas, save some of the cooking liquid and use it to thin out your hummus. This would be a good way to cut down on some of the sodium, too, because you could use less Tobasco, olive brine, and Worcestershire.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

Friday, July 4, 2014

If I ever revisit these posts a year from now, I hope I won’t be taken aback by how simple I made everything sound, or how I qualified every not-so-shiny experience. But can we be totally candid for a second? Lately, keeping things simple helps to keep me moving forward. If I allowed myself unlimited space to think, I’d have a tough time getting out of bed everyday. As long as we’re being candid, I might as well bare it all and tell you that earlier today while checking out automatic garage door openers at Home Depot, I caught myself having fun and humming along to whatever country song was playing overhead. I didn’t know whether to be horrified or secretly relieved, so I set the table for both.


There are a few things that are making this transition easier. Books are a good reminder of the big picture, small victories, a larger world. Read The Immortal Life first, then Some Assembly Required, now Mother Daughter Me and Quiet. Music, like this song by Jim James. Movement. Yoga, biking, walking, mowing the lawn, whatever. Movement’s good. So are rhubars! Rhubars are the delectable beauties in the photo up there. They are the invention of my friend Niki’s grandma, Lou. I bet they could both tell you the recipe by heart.

I’ve mentioned Niki here before over the years. Her name is sprinkled throughout several posts, and I guess because she’s been such a large presence in my life for so long, I haven’t thought to give her a formal introduction. I always assumed anyone who’d be reading would also know her. Besides being a great person to know, she’s also a terrific co-cook and eating buddy with a blossoming talent for getting her people to relocate to Minneapolis. So far, she’s two for two.

Niki was born in the middle of July. If you believe in zodiac signs and all of that, you’ll know that Cancers are the keepers of the home. This is true of Niki. Her presence feels like home. She is sturdy, consistent, and loyal to the people she loves. She doesn’t ask for much, but she’ll give you the shirt off her back, and probably her pants, too. Not to say that she’s an exhibitionist, although she certainly knows how to have a good time. In fact, she can go into any situation and find a way to enjoy herself. It’s one of her best qualities.


We’ve been friends officially since the seventh grade. We’ve been to the Rockies, Lake Superior, the Gulf of Mexico, Calgary, The Brooklyn Bridge, and the southern part of Korea together. We’ve trick-or-treated and skipped school and marched in parades together. She could tell you much more than that. Her memory is wickedly sharp, and the facets she can recall bring all kinds of color to the past. It’s unbelievable, really, and also potentially mortifying, since she’s got the dirt of our youth filed away, but still very much within reach. So, you know, if you haven’t figured out why I keep her around by now…

Last week, Niki invited me to pick strawberries in her garden. We got about two pints and 53 mosquito bites between us, and even though she got the majority of the bites, she still sent me home with all the berries. A few days later, she came over to hang out, mix us whiskey gingers, and listen. Then we walked to her house and made this ice cream. We ate it standing in the kitchen, with her husband Tony, her mom, and her dad. Even the cat came.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

When I was in Seoul and Niki was here, we started a private cooking blog together. We’d post recipes or nerdy food moments, anytime we felt like it. We thought it’d be a good way for us to keep record and stay connected until we were in the same city and could cook in the same kitchen again. Even if we were still thousands of miles apart, this is exactly the type of recipe I’d imagine her choosing.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream (adapted from the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book)
If you’ve got an ice cream spinner, ice cream is beautifully simple. If you make this and eat it immediately, it’ll be like soft serve: barely firm, almost drippy, luxurious. Or set it aside to fully freeze. It’s just as nice.

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
4 tablespoons strawberry balsamic vinegar*

*The book’s original recipe for strawberry ice cream calls for 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a LOT more sugar. Niki and Tony received a luxe bottle of strawberry balsamic vinegar as a wedding present a few years back, and it’s been kicking around in one of their cupboards ever since. Niki says they use it in salads, mostly, and since there was enough left to try it in this recipe, we did. But we would’ve happily used regular balsamic, too. We’d probably have added more sugar in that case, and perhaps even decreased the amount of vinegar to 3 tablespoons. Go conservative at first, taste, and adjust.

Blend strawberries to a smooth purée. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds, or don’t. It’s up to you. We don’t mind the seeds, so we didn’t. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and add the cream, condensed milk, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Whisk together until the sugar is incorporated. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately, or transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze for up to one week.