Mankato, Minnesota, adieu.

With less than 24 hours left in Minnesota there are a few folks/meals/locations I'd like to highlight for my own memorializing, and future visitors.

St. John's Episcopal Church
The first sermon Matt & I heard here was on how Jesus wants us to fight oppressive systems (ummm, YES). Philanthropic efforts include fair trade organizations & goods, Heifer International and Pride Fest. The rector selects hip swaying gospel themed hymns which the staunchly stiff congregation does their best to get into. In other words, it is perfect. We were more than embraced, and forever grateful for this faithful, kind, progressive place.

Christy's Cafe
This family run spot is perhaps the finest dining establishment in Mankato. They are dedicated to supporting the local Farmers' Market and providing excellent homemade fare. Christy's is Diner done better. One or both of the owners are always there (I am fairly certain they NEVER get a day off). When my parents came to visit, we ate here two days in a row. Their huevos rancheros are the best I've had outside of Texas, and I would give anything for a daily delivery of their pastry. A favorite breakfast that will be dearly, dearly missed.

Matt's Family
We've been supported, loved, and fed by Matt's Midwestern relatives. I will miss post thanksgiving shopping with his Grandmother and Aunt and fresh Walleye at the lake, and his cousin Jack's lacrosse games. They are quick to provide libations and hors d'ouvers, slow to irritate and smart, witty folk. I love them and will miss them dearly.

The Filling Station
I always see someone I know at the Filling Station. The carry and sell free trade loose leaf tea and have excellent pistachio biscotti. With eclectic and squishy furniture and a frequent flow of eccentric locals - what more could you want? Seriously.

The Snow
I both love and hate the snow. It is so beautiful, quiet - but equally a huge pain in the ass when you need to actually GO anywhere. All that to be said, I think I will miss it. The serenity of snow is unrivaled, and waking up to that level of peace is a rare and valuable moment.

Painted Hill Farm
Not only do these folks have the most gorgeous farm, but they also produce the finest pork I've ever tasted. I doubt I will find meat so fine in the Northwest and on cold winter nights when all I want is pulled pork, mashed potatoes and a side of broccoli, I will weap a little bit remembering the Thompson's and their damn fine meat.

I will leave you dear readers, and Minnesota, with a poem by Wendall Berry. I've learned a lot in Minnesota about making a home, building relationships, selecting food, growing plants, and appreciating weather. Generally I've learned that little of this can be controlled and that is, in essence, what makes all of it so equally terrifying and stunningly beautiful.

The Peace of Wild Things - Wendall Berry
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

Salad Daze of Summer

Well, after 10 days in the Pacific Northwest, a graduation, and the acquisition of a job (!), Matt & I returned to a very stuffy, muggy, icky, hot Minnesota. Thankfully I will be leaving via jet plane next Monday to begin said job. Matt procured an air conditioner last night so that he can attempt to sleep through the night for the rest of what is sure to be an almost intolerably hot summer.

All that being said I am interested in eating only cold light dishes that require little to no oven prep as the apartment is already a sweltering 80+ degrees. The following have sustained us this week and are delicious, light, and blissfully easy.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad
What you need:
2 cucumbers
1 small package cherry tomatoes
5oz block of feta cheese, or 5oz crumbled feta
15ish pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 lb or 1/2 box of shapped pasta, I like rigatoni (the corkscrew kind)
Dried oregano
White Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

What you do:
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While you are waiting for water to boil, peel cucumbers, cut lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon. Slice each half into three long strips, then dice crosswise to create cubes. Place cubed cucumber in a large bowl. Wash tomatoes and split lengthwise with a knife, add to cucumbers. Crumble feta into bowl as well. Chop olives to desired fineness and add to mixture. Toss the whole lot gently with a spoon or your hand.

When water comes to a boil, add pasta. When pasta is cooked al dente (a bite should be firm but not crunchy), pour water and pasta into sink over strainer. Carefully run cold, cold water over pasta tossing gently until pasta and strainer are cold to the touch. Be sure to check all the way through pasta, heat spots will remain and if you aren't thorough will melt your cheese.

Add pasta to veggie, cheese mixture. In a separate bowl mix 1/4 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (I like a really tangy, lightly dressed salad so this is how I do, if this isn't your style adjust accordingly. Conventional wisdom is 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar). Add 1 tbsp dried oregano (or more!) and salt and pepper generously. Combine dressing briskly with a fork. Dump over pasta-veg mixture, and stir and toss gingerly. Cover bowl and refrigerate until the whole thing is well chilled. Great as a side or alone. I even garnish with a bit of lemon juice sometimes (I love me some acid, clearly).

Romain Strawberry Sesame Salad
What you need:
1 bag hearts of Romain
1 quart strawberries
Sesame Seeds
Soy Sauce
Rice Wine Vinegar
White Sugar
Salt Pepper
Sesame Oil

Optional additions:  crunchy Asian noodles of any kind, sliced or diced chicken, avocado, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pea pods, shredded carrot, whatever else you have floating around your kitch...

What you do:
(I make these by the plateful, a plate serves as a meal for one or as a side for two. The following describes how to assemble salad for 1 plate.)
On a cutting board, cut the end off of 1 heart of Romain. Discard end and continue slicing heart of Romain crosswise at about .5 inch intervals. When sliced rinse in a strainer, and shake to dry lettuce leaves, or spin in spinner.

Once leaves are dry, place them on a plate or in a large salad bowl. Slice four to five strawberries lengthwise, after carefully removing the stems. Place on top of lettuce. Sprinkle whole plate with about 1/2 tbsp of sesame seeds. Add whatever else you desire to top of salad...

In a small bowl measure 1 tsp white sugar,  2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp white wine vinegar, and 1/4 tsp sesame oil. Mix together vigorously with a fork. Taste and adjust to personal liking.  (This can be made very nicely with a dash of orange juice also).

Pour dressing over salad and dig in. Watch that you don't slop all over yourself, because it is delicious and easy to get carried away. :)

Spring Salad Fest

Spring Salad Fest has been happening all week at my apartment. It's finally hot and I certainly don't feel like eating anything that even flirts with raising my body temperature. Just salad. And this salad is a delicious one. Molly Wizenberg ate it for a week straight after she got engaged to her husband. I like that extreme: eating the same thing for an entire week because you're out-of-your-mind in disbelief something so lovely could happen to you. I started making it last spring and have picked it up again to celebrate Spring in Montreal: round two. And I've found no better way to spend my time than eating this light, tasty meal with a very funny, tennis-playing French man, who stumbled into my life not so long ago.

Sliced Spring Salad with Endive, Cilantro, Radishes, and Feta.

As adapted from M. Wizenberg

For two


2 medium Belgian endive, root end trimmed away, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch strips
1/2 head radicchio, sliced as thinly as possible
6 red radishes, sliced thin
Cilantro to taste
1 medium avocado, cubed
1/4 C feta


1 TBS Dijon mustard
3 TBS apple cider vinegar (or red wine)
1 tsp honey or maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
5 TBS olive oil

- Whisk the mustard, vinegar, sweetner, and salt together.
- Slowly whisk in the olive oil until well combined.

- In a large bowl, combine the endive, radicchio, radishes, and cilantro leaves. Toss with vinaigrette to taste. Add the avocado and feta.
- Serve in two bowls with bread on the side.

Psst: you might still be hungry, so I suggest topping it off with some rhubarb crisp. You'll have some on hand, of course.

I scream, you scream, we all scream TONKATSU!

Lots of good things are happening lately, and one of them is pork tonkatsu, a delicious Japanese dish of pounded, breaded, and fried pork chops. This was a week-night special in my house growing up. I can still hear dad's hammering on the cutting board as he pounded out the boneless chops nice and thin. Can still see his hands flouring, egging, and breading the chops. Can hear them crackling around in the pan. Can remember refusing to eat the tangy, dark sauce and insisting instead on having ketchup - ah to have young and unappreciative taste buds, for there is ketchup in the sauce. We usually ate this with white rice and broccoli: a simple, quick, and oh-so-tasty meal, fit for a king and queen, or a family of four. The other day, I had it for lunch.

When I was growing up, I took the ease and deliciousness of tonkatsu for granted. Now, I turn to those old favourites to remind me of the "good ole times." But this time one thing was holding me back from satisfying my craving: I didn't have a meat pounder. This is a bit ridiculous, seeing as I bought a mandoline the other day. Mandoline's are much less useful than meat pounders. Why wouldn't I have just bought a meat pounder? Who knows. I guess I was waiting for one to come for me - that can be a fun approach sometimes, waiting. After complaining about this lack of pounder to Alix for almost four months, or so it seems, she lent me hers, poof! just like that.

I couldn't possibly wait any longer to make the recipe, so I marched off to the market, got myself some tasty little cutlets, and set to work. Here's what you do:

Pork Tonkatsu

Adapted from the BIRC (Best International Recipe Cookbook)

For two people

This recipe calls for bread crumbs. I strongly recommend finding some panko crumbs, Japanese bread crumbs. They're far superior to regular crumbs and easy to find nowadays. Just look in the foreign section of the grocery store! (If you have as terrible a foreign section as I do at my store down the street, you'll have to ride your bike a bit farther to the health food store, as I do, and you'll find them there for sure.)

The Chops

2 boneless pork chops, pounded to 1/4 inch thick
1/4 C cornstarch
1 large egg
1 C panko
2-4 TBS of vegetable oil

- To pound the pork chops, place them between some Seran wrap, and using a meat pounder, pound them until they're 1/4 inch thick. This will prevent bits of meat from flying everywhere. The Seran wrap will start to tear by the end, but this is nothing to worry about. Pound valiantly on!
- Set up three bowls: one with cornstarch, one with egg, and one with panko. Starting with the cornstarch, coat the chops first in cornstarch, then in egg, and then in panko. Use one hand for the egg and the other for the dry ingredients; otherwise, you'll stick to everything, and this is quite disagreeable. Set them on a wire rack to dry for 5 minutes.
- In the mean time, heat your medium-sized frying pan over medium-high heat and make the sauce.

The Sauce

1/4 C ketchup
1 TBS Wooster sauce (that's Worcestershire sauce for northern folk)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder

- whisk all ingredients together.

To Cook

- Heat the oil in the pan until shimmering. (I used much less than CI (Cooks Illustrated) calls for, but I'll let you be the judge. You don't want too much because it splatters everywhere and you worry about your heart, but you definitely want enough to give the chops a nice golden colour.)
- Cook each cutlet on each side for about 4 minutes. If they're thin enough and your pan is hot enough, they should cook quite quickly. I gave mine a poke to make sure they were firm, but slightly springy. CI recommends you cook them on each side for 2 1/2 minutes and then finish them in the oven. I decided this was a waste of electricity and left them in the pan for longer. It appeared to work BEAUTIFULLY.

Serving Suggestions

- Thinly slice the crispy chop and place it over a bed of soba or rice noodles, or just rice. Pour the sauce over top (see photo above!). I cooked my soba noodles in salted, boiling water and then sauteed them in the frying pan I cooked the pork in with some ginger, scallions and garlic. This was quite successful. There was also broccoli involved, which was also stupendously delicious.

So go buy those chops, buy that pounder, stand at that counter, and give 'er.

Ways to Woo Proffesors

I defended my Thesis two weeks ago, and as is per custom, I provided food. My food, was well, awesome. I spent weeks thinking about what I would serve, which deeply amused my office mates. I had to consider time of day, dietary restrictions, presentation, space, etc. This resulted in a lovely little non-alcoholic Mediterranean cocktail hour, and a very happy thesis committee. I also used it as an excuse to buy new serving ware (thank you T.J. Maxx).

The Menu:
Cherry tomatoes
Cucumber Spears
Whipped Feta
Marinated Olives (assorted)
Pita Chips

DELCIOUS. I called all my friends over to my house after a (successful) defense and insisted they eat the leftovers. We did, but with the addition to wine.

Here is how you prep this baby:
  • Grapes and tomatoes need simply be washed. I sometimes cut grapes into little clusters, but this is labor intensive, annoying, and somewhat unnecessary.
  • Cucumber spears are a great way to eat cucumber, and they surprise people because they are not used to seeing cucumbers cut in this manner. First, peel the cucumber. Then slice in half. Slice each half lengthwise. Slice each half length into three long spears. Repeat for other sections. If cucumbers are particularly long, cut into thirds initially (each spear should be about 2.5 inches long). I prefer English cucumbers, but regular ones will work well too.
  • Whipped Feta is something I cannot stop craving after having it prepared it for this little gathering. This comes straight from The Best International Recipe cookbook: In a food proccessor combine 1 pound feta, 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, juice from 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper. Process until smooth then transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until needed. I think the same results could be accomplished with a sturdy bowl and spoon and some serious elbow grease.
  • I purchased my Hummus and Marinated Olives - but The Best International Recipe provides nice directions for making both on your own.
  • Pita Chips are simple to make and WAY more delicious then the ones that come in foil bags. Buy or make your own pita bread. Then cut each slice into sixths. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Toss pita slices on a baking sheet with a generous glug of olive oil and more salt than seems necessary. Place in oven and bake until the edges of the pita slices begin to brown and desired crispyness is achieved. Serve immediatly or let cool and store in an airtight container for about 1 day.
  • Lemonade should be GOOD lemonade, and by good I mean "not from concentrate." I likely Newman's Extra Virgin Lemonade and Simply Lemonade. 
And that, is a little Mediterranean party for proffs or friends alike.