This morning tells a story of what it is to have a very large goal, a team of cheerleaders, and the support of those who believe in you.
For years, I’ve written down and assembled my recipes to share with friends who were making a shift in their food journey to eat healthier and feel better. For the past several years, I have been creating even more recipes and dedicating a large part of my time to crafting more foods at both ends of the health spectrum - both hyper-conscious of food allergies and intolerances - and absolutely delicious with no room for apologies.
The story of how sending recipes to friends turned into creating four full cookbooks that make up an entire year of seasonal, local, organic and healthy eating starts with being asked if I was ever going write a book at monthly cooking classes that I teach at Kitchen Window in Minneapolis. Over and over and over again. I finally got good and tired of saying that I was “working on it” and actually started to work on it. It began with a plan to gather all of these recipes, and then ended with it being too big and too much to do for one book.
So I restarted with the idea to break it down, and to write and publish just exactly how I live my life - season by season, cooking and eating with beautiful ingredients that are sourced by the prime of their flavor from local growers.
Next, I kept saying that I didn’t want to do a “cooking for kids” cookbook, even though I kept hearing from families that they wanted just that.
So what I ended up doing was creating a healthy cooking series for families - or anyone who want to eat better - while managing food allergies and intolerances in the kitchen. I used my healthful recipes with the all-natural substitutions that are a mainstay in my own kitchen.
And I did it because I had a huge team of help. My team was a group of over 15 women - most of them moms, including my own mom - and two men - both dads. They worked with me for over a year, cooking and testing recipes, serving them to their families and giving me real feedback on what worked and what didn’t. And guess who was eating the food? Kids. Not food that was dumbed down, breaded, flavorless or fried - but real food with whole ingredients and good flavors. Every single recipe was vetted and tested by real families.
The families of my testers are like so many other families out there, who are learning what it means to cook with healthy fats, whole gluten-free grains, colorful vegetables, and without dairy or refined sugar. Families who are learning how to cook more and stock the refrigerator with batches of healthy foods to make busy lives and nutritious eating both possible and delicious.
So the story this morning is that the seasons have come full circle, and I've been humbled in the process. The writing and recipe testing for Nourish: Winter began last September, and I complete the series today with Nourish: Fall, live on Amazon. It’s a huge project completed and at the same time - just the beginning. Cheers - to more good food and healthy living!
Sweet Potato and Anasazi Bean Stew
(from Nourish: Fall by Anna Dvorak)
Anasazi beans are beautiful when dry - speckled white and deep red - and have a sweet flavor and creamy, rich texture when cooked. They have a thin, tender skin which makes them easier to digest than some beans. Native to the desert high mountain regions of the southwest, they cook remarkably well at altitude, which isn’t the case for all beans. Outside of their native region they can be hard to find, so substitute pinto beans instead, which are also a very creamy and meaty bean. Serve this colorful, satisfying stew with a large green salad, and consider doubling it to have great leftovers for lunches or dinners.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups cooked Anasazi beans or pinto beans (or use 1 (14 ounce) can beans, drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” dice (or 1/2 small winter squash) (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 small Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” dice (about 1 cup)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup frozen sweet corn
1 teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil
2 Roma tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare beans if cooking from scratch. (See full recipe for beans in Nourish: Fall.)
2. Meanwhile, warm a small soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and onions and sauté until onions begin to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and let cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Add cubed sweet potato and Yukon Gold potato, stir to coat in oil and add 3 cups water along with sea salt, oregano and thyme. Increase heat to medium high; when the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and let cook at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, warm a small sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add coconut oil and corn and sauté until the corn begins to turn golden brown. Add corn to the soup pot along with chopped tomatoes and cooked beans and let the mixture simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Add 1 cup bean cooking water if needed to thin the stew.
4. Taste for salt and adjust. Stir in fresh cilantro and black pepper to taste and serve.
I have lots of opinions about food. Things I love, things I wouldn’t touch, and things I want everyone to go out and enjoy, right now.
One of my very favorite things is the Mill City Farmer’s Market in downtown Minneapolis. Tucked behind the Mill Ruins along the Mississippi River, Mill City Farmer’s Market is what I’ve come to consider the jewel in the crown of metro area farmer’s markets. Of course I know that everyone has their favorites, but this happens to be mine. Here’s why:
1. I love the quality of food I can find there: the Market has chosen vendors who meet the highest standards of local and sustainably grown, pesticide-free and/or organic foods, plus quality goods.
2. I adore Brenda Langton. With her rich history in the metro food scene serving some of the most honest and responsibly-sourced food from early St. Paul days to Cafe Brenda and now Spoonriver, she has created an amazing food zone at the Market with passion, vision, and a whole lot of work. Mill City Market has become the new standard for organic, quality and innovative local market vendors in large part to her energy and commitment.
3. I love the variety: greens, cheeses, breads and pastries, handmade chocolates and crackers, herbs, wild-caught salmon, and perfect ice cream. I can shop here on Saturdays and stock my fridge for days.
Here are some of my very favorites:
But go, find more gems for yourself, and make sure to buy lots of fresh veggies so you can go home and put together a super-local and delicious summer meal that doesn’t take more than a little tossing in a salad bowl.
(P.S. I would be a big liar if I didn't mention that I get a bag of organic, cardamom-spiced mini donuts from the Chef Shack at least once a summer for utter donut perfection. Just make sure to eat extra salad later to make up for it.)
Super Simple Spinach Greek Salad for Two
two large handfuls fresh spinach (about 4 loose cups)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
10 Kalamata olives
1/4 red onion, extremely thinly sliced
2 ounces Singing Hills Goat Dairy feta
2 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
large pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Wash and spin dry the spinach. Tear into bite-sized pieces into a medium bowl. Top with tomatoes, olives, onion, and feta. Drizzle with the olive oil, lemon and sprinkle on the oregano, salt and black pepper. Toss well to combine and serve immediately.
Our first CSA share showed up yesterday, delivered from Burning River Farm by farmer/owner Mike Noreen. What a bounty: bok choy, broccoli rabe, crispy-fresh head lettuces, baby kale, spinach, and a basket of herbs for planting so that we’ll have herbs later on this summer. Oh, those greens - they looked so good that I felt better just opening the box, even before I had eaten them.
Then, my mom arrived at my door with bags of freshly snipped leaf lettuces and just-picked asparagus. By now I’m feeling like a queen, with all of these riches of the new summer garden season arriving in my kitchen.
Shortly after the whirlwind of first-day CSA share pick-ups last night, my doorbell rang – it was my friend and neighbor Mary Jo holding in her hand a bunch of greens, wondering what they were and what she should do with them. This marks the other start to the summer garden and market season - shifting our way of eating away from the typical shopping list and grocery store options, to choosing what’s here, right now. Excitement can easily give way to feeling stymied or overwhelmed, though, when good intentions for opening the CSA box, buying arms full of veggies at the farmer’s market, or watching rows of Swisschard come up in the garden turn into vegetable panic.
But it’s not that hard. Eating fresh using the best vegetables of the moment actually takes less time – fresher food takes less work to make it taste good and vegetables cook more quickly because they are still plump and full of water from growing in the soil and not being shipped cross-country.
My advice to Mary Jo was to gently sauté the broccoli rabe with some olive oil and garlic and then throw in an egg or two to scramble, tossed with the greens. She reported back this morning that it was delicious.
So that’s the new bottom line, when we’re heading into this season of bounty and “of the moment” fresh foods. Quick is good. To use fresh greens after work but save time, rinse the greens, roll them gently in a kitchen towel and store them in a plastic bag – they’ll stay nice and crispy fresh, and won’t lose their moisture or nutrition to the dehydrating environment in the fridge. Take some out for lunches or dinner all week, and make a green smoothie with some of them in the morning.
Dinner can be quick as well. All greens taste good lightly steamed and served with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar or freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and some good salt and fresh pepper. Or sauté them with some garlic or maybe even some Texas sweet onions (also in season right now - delicious), add a little crumbled Wisconsin or Minnesota feta cheese and toss the whole thing with some whole wheat pasta for a more substantial weeknight dinner (see recipe below). Or, put steamed greens over some cooked sweet brown rice or wild rice and top with a Thai peanut sauce – coconut is slightly sweet and it makes a great pairing with the flavors of the greens. With all of these options, using a little fat from the eggs, olive oil, cheese, or coconut milk is key - dark leafy greens and fresh head lettuces are Vitamin A-rich, and we need a little good, healthy fat to help us unlock and absorb the available nutrients.
Try eating more salads, too. Salads should become more of the main story, at least a few times a week in the summer. A big pile of fresh greens can be topped with your favorite grilled mushrooms, fish, chicken or meat, as well as thinly sliced raw vegetables of every variety for extra crunch, flavor and nutrition. Keep the dressing light to let the flavors really sing in your mouth – drizzle with fresh olive oil and lemon or whip together a quick salad dressing. (Homemade is so much better than bottled, in every way – tastes better, doesn’t have all of those thickeners, stabilizers, modifiers, preservatives, and colorings, and it costs much, much less.)
The key is that if you want to eat well, then yes, it will take a little more time than dialing for take-out. But the rewards are literally life-giving. Instead of your poor little old body fighting inflammation and fatigue, you will be giving yourself energy and fuel from the original source. Real food. From the earth. Grown not by accident, but with purpose and a reason – and, incidently, chock full of things that we really, really need. Eat!
Fresh Greens and Feta with Whole Wheat Pasta
A painless way to eat your greens!
6 T olive oil
4 cups chopped Vidalia onions (or red or yellow onions)
7-8 cups mixed greens - kale, chard, collards, arugula, spinach, bok choy - washed, dried, cut off the stem and coarsely chopped
3/4 lb whole wheat bowtie pasta (I prefer the Bionaturae brand)
1/2 lb. good local feta (try Shepherds Way), crumbled
freshly ground pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
Set the pasta water on to boil.
Heat olive oil in a deep skillet dutch oven. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until golden and sweet.
Add the chopped greens to the skillet, salt lightly, and stir until the greens begin to wilt. Cover and cook 5 minutes over medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente in salted water. When the pasta is just about done, remove the cover from the greens, turn it down to low and add the crumbled feta. Drain the pasta and add it to the greens mixture immediately, tossing to mix thoroughly.
Season with fresh pepper, red pepper flakes and salt if needed. Serve immediately.
I’m a big fan of knowing where my food comes from, as much as possible. There’s no better time to start planning on where to source food closest to home - either from a garden that is grown in your own backyard or a community garden, a pot of herbs on a patio or windowsill, or from a local CSA that delivers fresh vegetables weekly throughout the growing season.
There are so many ways to create a little patch of urban garden that will reward your family with green growing treats throughout the season. A section of turf can be turned into a bountiful kitchen garden; a wood box made from untreated lumber can be transformed into a raised bed garden; a big pot can grow a bumper crop of the most delicious cherry tomatoes right on your deck; and even a little trough of soil can sprout a nice variety of herbs to snip and use in salads or cooking throughout the season.
If a garden in your yard isn’t possible, then there may still be time to join a community garden. Your best bet is to find a community garden near you that is a little on the young side to find available space to grow. Gardening Matters is a website that runs a listserv with lots of information and all kinds of community gardening talk.
No time to garden? A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share is a wonderful way to become directly involved in a small farm by directly investing in the farm operations in return for a weekly share of vegetables throughout the season. A CSA might be one step removed from a backyard garden, but it still provides the share members with a close connection to the growing season. With weekly updates along with a box of vegetables, members are naturally partners and risk takers as the changing whims of weather and nature positively or negatively impact the produce grown on the farm. The reward is incredible – fresh off the farm vegetables, with a deeper understanding of what truly seasonal food means and how hard it is to be a farmer.
Even if there is only time to make a weekly trip to the farmers’ market, the benefits of eating vegetables grown as close to your back door as possible are huge. Less time spent out of the ground means fresher, more nutrient-packed and better tasting vegetables, which need nothing more than a little washing and light preparation to make their flavors sing.
I saw a reproduction of an old sign when I was shopping at the Traditional Foods Warehouse yesterday. It read:
1. Buy it with thought.
2. Cook it with care.
3. Serve just enough.
4. Save what will keep.
5. Eat what would spoil
6. Home grown is best.
Just about says it all, doesn’t it?
Spring-Summer Garden Salad with Herbs in a Bowl
1 clove garlic or 2 teaspoons minced garlic scapes
juice of 1/4 lemon, squeezed
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
big pinch sea salt
2 - 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
2 big handfuls fresh salad greens, rinsed and spun dry - use any combination of arugula, baby greens, leaf lettuce
1 big handful fresh herbs - use any combination of basil, oregano, mint, tarragon and nasturtiums
In a big salad bowl, combine garlic, onion, lemon juice, mustard and salt. Whisk with a fork to combine. Let sit while you wash and spin-dry the lettuce and remove the herbs from their stems. Whisk the olive oil into the salad bowl ingredients until well-combined. Add pepper and salt to taste. Tear lettuce into the bowl and add the handful of fresh herbs. Using two forks or two big serving spoons, toss the salad greens with the dressing in the bowl until all the leaves are coated and glossy with oil. Taste a leaf and add more fresh pepper as desired. Garnish with a big handful of pansies or nasturtiums and serve.