4 Self-Care City Vacation Retreats

Taking Care of Yourself

Busy lives and hectic work schedules can take their toll on both the mind and the body, which is why it’s essential you try to take a break to recharge your batteries as you welcome the New Year. One way of energizing your body and calming your mind is to take a trip focused on self-care and general wellness.

Guest blogger, Lisa Walker of Neighborhood Sprout, recommends four cities you can visit to achieve both.

Minneapolis

In 2020, Minneapolis, Minnesota was voted the third-fittest city in the country. More than 75% of residents work out at least once a week. It’s a haven for outdoor lovers, and travelers would be foolish not to visit the town of Brainerd, with its 450 lakes and year-round recreational activities such as hiking and canoeing and opportunities for relaxation.

With lower-than-average health care costs, an incredible park system, good infrastructure, and a seemingly endless stream of things to do, Minneapolis is a great place to live as well as visit.

Knoxville

Being exposed to high levels of traffic daily can lead to chronic stress. However, this isn’t something you’ll experience in Knoxville, Tennessee, one of the world’s least congested cities. Far less traffic ensures a quicker journey to the country’s most visited national park, just 34 miles away.

The Smoky Mountains spans over 500,000 acres and has 850 miles of trails, including the world-renowned Appalachian Trail.

Besides less congestion, other benefits of moving to Knoxville include lower housing costs. Searching for rental apartments in Knoxville is made easier by visiting sites like Apartment Guide. You can set your price range and other parameters to ensure you only search for properties within your budget and meet other requirements such as a number of bedrooms, pet friendliness, and other amenities. 

San Marcos

San Marcos in San Diego, California, is a fantastic place to recharge and rejuvenate with its tranquil streets, peace, quiet, proximity to the breach, open spaces, and nature. It’s also home to one of the best spas in the world.

The Golden Door features multiple facilities including, a 2,000-square-foot equipment gym, two swimming pools, and a water therapy pool for guests to work out or relax. Discovery Lake, another place of interest, allows visitors to immerse themselves in large tracts of wilderness and connect with nature. Anyone deciding to relocate to the city can enjoy a lower cost of living and a lower crime rate than average. 

Malibu

Escape the crowds at Malibu’s Westward Beach

West of Los Angeles, California, and known for its celebrity homes and beaches, Malibu also boasts an exclusive and sought-after seven-day wellness retreat, The Ranch.

Limited to just 19 guests, visitors immerse themselves in a self-care experience that includes weight loss, fitness programs while also enjoying local plant-based meals.

Eight hours of daily activity include afternoon naps, massages, and an organic vegan diet. Living in a sparsely populated city has many benefits, such as incredible landscapes, top attractions, and a low crime rate. As expected, living costs in the city are considerably higher than the average.

A Necessary Reset

Whether it’s a relaxing massage, a 45-minute workout, or an awe-inspiring visit to a national park or an organic vegan diet, sometimes a change and a reset are not only needed; they’re often necessary. 

Spilling the Beans: Abra Berens Dishes on Legumes, Beans, and More in Her Latest Cookbook

         A much maligned vegetable belonging, along with peas and lentils, to the vegetable class called legumes, beans are about as low on the food chain as you can go in terms of respect. Kids snicker at rhymes about beans and the gas they produce and sayings like “not worth a hill of beans” signifies their, well, insignificance.

         Once Abra Berens, the former co-owner of Bare Knuckles Farm in Northport, Michigan and now the executive chef at Granor Farm in Southwest Michigan, was like most of us. She didn’t give a bean about beans. That is until she became intrigued by the bean and grain program at Granor, a certified organic farm in Three Oaks, a charming historic village with its own burgeoning food culture.

         Now she’s all about legumes and grains and for anyone who knows Abra that means a total passionate immersion in the subject which resulted in her latest cookbook, a 464-page door stopper with 140 recipes and over 160 recipe variations titled Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes. Just published by Chronicle Books on October 26th, the demand for Grist is so high it was hard to get a copy at first.

         Now, that’s worth more than a hill of beans.

         Berens, a James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Chef: Great Lakes, also authored  Ruffage. That book, which came out in 2019, was named a Best Cookbook for Spring 2019 by the New York Times and Bon Appétit, was a 2019 Michigan Notable Book winner, and was also nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award. She puts the same energy into her Grist.

         “We are told over and over again to eat a diet rich in whole grains and plant-based protein,” writes Berens in the book’s introduction. “The science is there—high in soluble fiber, low glycemic index, healthy fatted protein—but the perception of whole grains seems to still be of leaden health food, endless cooking times, and cud-like chewing at the end of it all.”

         Indeed. Consider this. A cup of cooked black beans has 245 calories and contains approximately the following percentage of the daily values needed in an average diet—74% folate, 39% manganese, 20% iron, 21% both potassium and magnesium, and 20% vitamin B6.

         “But we all know that they’re good for you,” says Berens, who describes herself as a bean-evangelist.  “I want people to understand these ingredients and you can’t understand these ingredients until you know them.”

         And so, she introduces us to 29 different grains, legumes, and seeds. Some like lentils, lima beans, split peas, quinoa, rice, and oats we know something about. Others are more obscure such as cowpeas, millet, teff, fonio, and freekeh are mysteries. That is until you read her book and learn not only how to cook them but also about their history. There’s a cheat sheet of the health benefits of each. Berens also conducted interviews with farmers  including her cousins Matt and John Berens, third-generation farmers in Bentheim, Michigan who have transitioned into growing non-GMO corn and edible beans and Jerry Hebron, the manager of Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to cultivating healthy foods, sustainable economies, and active cultural environments. Hebron has been raising crowder beans for almost a decade.  

         We also get to meet Carl Wagner, a farmer and seed cleaner in Niles, Michigan. Berens said she wanted to include “invisible” farming jobs and this certainly is one. She didn’t know what a seed cleaner was until a few years ago and figured that most of us don’t know either. Wagner, with his wife Mary, run C3 Seeds, a company that provides seed cleaning for grains and seed stock.  When Berens asked him what he’d like people to know about his job, his response was that they would know that seed cleaning “is part of buying a bag of flour or a bottle of whiskey.”

         “The biggest thing is that if people are interested in cooking with beans, it’s an easy entry point it’s not like buying $100 tenderloin,” says Berens.

         Of course, you can buy beans in the grocery store. Berens recommends dried beans not canned. But Granor Farm also sells black, red, and pinto beans at their farm store which is open Friday and Saturday. For information on the times, visit granorfarm.com

         Berens is already working on her next book, tentatively titled Fruit, due out in 2023. When I ask her how she does it all, she laughs and replies, “I don’t have any hobbies.”

         And she takes things very seriously.

         “Every author has to think about why they’re putting something in the world,” she says, “and what is the value of it and makes these books worthwhile.”

         With Grist, we’re learning the value of tasty and healthy foods that taste good.

The following recipes are reprinted from Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes by Abra Berens with permission from Chronicle Books, 2021. Photographs © EE Berger.

Seared Chicken Thighs W/Buckwheat, Smashed Cucumbers + Tajín Oil

The angular mouthfeel of the buckwheat plays well with the crunch of the cucumber and against the crisp of the chicken thigh. Serve the buckwheat warm or chilled, depending on your preference. If you aren’t eating meat, the salad is a great lunch on its own or pairs well with an egg or fried tofu.

  • 1 cup buckwheat groats, toasted or not
  • Olive oil
  • 2 medium cucumbers (about 1 lb. total), washed
  • 1/4 cup Tajín Oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt, Greek or traditional
  • 1 lemon (about 1½ oz) zest and juice
  • 10 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped
  • Any additional herbs you want, roughly chopped (mint, tarragon, thyme, cilantro)
  • Pinch of chili flakes (optional)
  • 4 to 6 chicken thighs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Toss in the buckwheat groats and give the pot a stir. Return to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook the grains until tender, 8 to 15 minutes.

Drain the groats, toss with a glug of Tajín oil, and set aside.

Trim the ends of the cucumbers and place on a cutting board. Using the widest knife (or frying pan) you have, press down on the cucumbers until their skin cracks and they break into irregular pieces. Dress the cucumbers with the Tajín oil and a pinch of salt.

Combine the yogurt with the lemon zest and juice, chopped herbs, chili flakes (if using), a pinch of salt, and two big glugs of olive oil. Set aside.

Blot the chicken skin dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large frying pan over high heat until the pan is starting to smoke. Add a glug or two of oil, lower the heat to medium, and fry the thighs, skin-side down, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip the

chicken and sauté until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes more.

To serve, dish the buckwheat onto serving plates. Top with the chicken thighs and then the dressed cucumbers. Garnish with a thick spoonful of the herbed yogurt.

Tajín Oil

  • 1 cup neutral oil
  • 2 Tbsp Tajín

In a medium sauce or frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it begins to shimmer, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add the Tajín, and let steep for 5 minutes.

Whole Roasted Leeks w/Chickpeas, Lemon Vinaigrette, Ricotta + Chard

  • 4 large leeks (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cleaned of dirt
  • 4 sprigs thyme (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 orange (about 3 ounces), peel stripped, juiced, or ¼ cup white wine or hard cider
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 bunch chard (8 ounces), cut into ribbons (or spinach, kale, or arugula)
  • 2 lemons (about 3 ounces), zest and juice
  • 4 ounces ricotta

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the whole, cleaned leeks, side by side, in a roasting pan.

Scatter the thyme (if using), chili flakes (if using), and 2 large pinches of salt evenly over the leeks.

Scatter the orange peel strips over the leeks and drizzle them with the orange juice and ¼ cup of the olive oil to coat.

Cover with foil and bake until the leeks are tender, 35 to 45 minutes.

Combine the chickpeas, chard ribbons, lemon zest and juice, and remaining ½ cup of olive oil with a big pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper.

When the leeks are tender, transfer from the roasting pan to plates or a serving platter. Top with the chickpea and chard salad. Dot ricotta over the top and serve.

Spoon Pudding with Pork Chops and Cabbage Salad

For the spoon pudding:

  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

For the salad:

  • About 1 pound red cabbage, shaved into thin strips
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 10 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon zest and juice
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • Salt

4 pork chops, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled

To make the spoon pudding:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an ovenproof baking dish or frying pan that can hold 2 quarts total volume.

Combine the cornmeal, salt, 1 cup of boiling water, and the melted butter and whisk out any lumps. Combine the eggs, milk, and baking powder and add to the cornmeal batter. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake until the edges of the spoon bread are just set and lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the salad: Combine the cabbage with the olive oil, chopped parsley, lemon zest and juice, chili flakes, paprika, and a couple pinches of salt. Toss to combine and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Serve the spoon bread alongside the grilled pork chops and cabbage salad.

Baking for the Holidays is a Perfect Resource for Edible Presents

I love giving—and getting—edible gifts and so Sarah Kieffer’s Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season with recipes for Christmas, Hanukah, and New Year’s Eve get togethers, cookie swaps, and stocking stuffers is just the thing. Kieffer, author of 100 Cookies, is also the creator of The Vanilla Bean Blog, and inventor the “bang-the-pan” method. The latter is a technique she originally used for her chocolate chip cookies.

But before you get the idea that you’ll be able to slam pans around—which would be a wonderful way to let off steam during the busy holiday season—realize it’s Kieffer’s term for the way she shakes up the cookies while they’re baking in order to create a crispy edged cookie with gooey center cookie. She calls them her “Pan Banging Chocolate Chip Cookies.”

See her blog for that recipe and more.

Peanut Butter Cups

  • 16 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate, stirring frequently until smooth. Pour

the melted chocolate into a medium bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.

In another medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt until combined and completely smooth.

Place about a tablespoon of chocolate in the bottom of each circle in a silicone mold (you can also line a mini muffin pan and use that instead). Tilt and twist the mold around so the chocolate coats the sides of the circle.

Scoop out a scant tablespoon of the peanut butter mixture and gently roll it into a ball between your palms (if it is too sticky to do so, refrigerate the mixture for 10 minutes to help it firm up). Place the ball in the center of each mold and top each one with some of the remaining chocolate.

Smooth out the tops by gently tapping the mold on the counter, then chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours to set. Once set, pop each peanut butter cup out of its mold and bring to room temperature before serving.

Peanut butter cups can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week.

VARIATION

Cacao Nibs Topping

Melt 1 ounce of chocolate.

Place about ½ teaspoon of chocolate on top of each set and unmolded peanut butter cup, carefully smoothing out the tops. Sprinkle with chopped cacao nibs and let set before serving.

Gluten-free and Easy-to-Make

Remember when gluten-free usually meant taste-free? Thank goodness so many great gluten-free products are now available. I’m constantly trying new ones, not because I’m on a gluten-free diet (lately I feel like I’ve been on a glutton-plus diet but that’s a different post) but because people are always asking what I recommend.

So I was happy when my friend Aly Nardini of Chicago sent me samples of products made by Pamela’s, a leading purveyor of great-tasting, gluten-free mixes for breads, muffins, flours such as almond, cassava, tiger nut, and coconut, cookies, cakes, ramen noodles, pasta, grain-free pancake mixes using nut flours, and more. Pamela’s website is very informative and for each item, there’s a list of ingredients as well as recipes so there’s always something new to try. Besides that, the site provides substitutions so if you’re using, say tiger nut flour, you can use it both as a one on one substitute for other flours or, since tiger nuts aren’t really nuts but a milled vegetable root with a flour consistency, it can be used instead of nut flours such as almond flour. How handy is that?

I always try any recipe before I post it.For example, using Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix, I made their Fall Sheet Pan Pancake with apples and cranberries. According to the website, the mix packet contains brown rice flour, white rice flour, cultured buttermilk, natural almond meal (may appear as brown flecks), tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, potato starch, grainless & aluminum free baking powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, potato starch, sodium bicarbonate), baking soda, sea salt, and xanthan gum. According to their Allergen Information, their mix contains milk and almonds and was manufactured in a gluten-free certified facility, on equipment that processes tree nuts, coconut, eggs, soy and milk. Manufactured in a peanut-free facility.

The following are recipes that I’ve made using Pamela’s Products. They’re all available on her website under the recipes tab. Just click here.

Fall Sheet Pan Pancake

Recipe courtesy (@uncomplicatedchef)

2 cups of Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix (follow package instructions for the batter
1 apple, sliced
1/4 cup of fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Maple syrup for serving


Make the pancake batter as per package instructions.

Slice the apple. In a bowl mix apples and cranberries with sugar and cinnamon.
Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until nice and fluffy. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Lemon Bars

This gluten-free recipe from @soulfooodie features Pamela’s Honey Grahams and Coconut Flour and is a delightful rift on a personal favorite.

CRUST:

  • 2 cups @pamelasproducts #glutenfree Honey Grahams
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • ¼ cup coconut palm sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of @pamelasproducts #glutenfree Coconut Flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt

LEMON CURD:

  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon @pamelasproducts Coconut Flour
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease pan and set aside.

Mix graham cracker crumbs, coconut palm sugar, coconut flour, and salt. Then pour in melted butter and mix until thoroughly combined.

Pour mixture into pan and press crumbs into pan.

Bake crust for 10 minutes. Let cool before adding the lemon curd.

Lemon Curd:

Whisk together eggs and sugar until smooth. Then whisk in lemon juice and zest.

Add in coconut flour and whisk together until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Pour lemon curd mixture over the cooled crust and bake for 36 minutes. Cool & serve.

Kabocha Empanadas with Gruyère & Thyme {Gluten-Free}

Recipe courtesy of Snixty Kitchen.

Gluten-free Crust

  • 1¼ cups Pamela’s All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon sized pieces
  • 8-10 tablespoons ice water

Filling:

1 small kabocha squash (1-1.5lb and you’ll still probably have some left over!), seeds discarded and cut into ¼ to ½-inch cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup shredded gruyère cheese

3 tablespoons chopped shallot (1 large)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3-4 large cloves)

5 sprigs of fresh thyme

Salt & pepper

Egg wash

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

Gluten-free crust:

Pulse together the Pamela’s All-Purpose Flour, sugar, xanthan gum, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can whisk by hand).

Add the cold butter, but don’t pulse. One tablespoon at a time, dribble ice water into the food processor, pulsing after each addition, until the dough holds together when pinched with your fingers. Add water until it just holds together, but is not sticky.

If you need more water, add a teaspoon at a time. (If working by hand, mix the butter into the flour with your hands, breaking up the butter until the largest pieces are about the size of a pea. Mix in ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough just holds together).

Form the dough into a flat disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling as directed below.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Use a 4-inch cutter to cut dough rounds and transfer each round to a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Roll out the scraps and repeat until you have 10 dough rounds.

Filling

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Spread the kabocha squash cubes on a large parchment-lined baking sheet and toss with olive oil and about ¼ teaspoon each of salt & pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, until just tender when pierced with a fork. Place the cooked squash in the refrigerator to cool before filling the empanadas.

When the dough rounds are ready, place filling components in the following on one half of the round: about 1 teaspoon of shredded gruyère, 1 tablespoon cooked kabocha squash, 1 teaspoon chopped shallot, a pinch of minced garlic, and leaves from half a sprig of thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg and water together in a small bowl.

Lightly brush the edge of one half of one dough round with the egg wash, fold the round in half around the filling, lightly crimping the edges together with your fingertips. Repeat with all 10 empanadas.

Brush the egg wash over the top of each empanada.

Bake your empanadas for 30-35 minutes rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the tops are lightly golden brown. (Tip: Keep an eye on your empanadas after 20 minutes, as the color of your baking sheet can vary the baking time!).

Serve warm.

  • 4½ cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1½ tsp dried thyme or 1 TBSP fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1½ tsp dried sage or 1 TBSP fresh sage
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram or oregano or 2 tsp fresh marjoram or oregano
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 1 cup white wine or broth
  • ½ cup butter or butter alternative
  • ½ cup All-Purpose Flour Artisan Blend
  • 1 lb or 3 cups cubed or shredded chicken or turkey
  • 2 cups carrots, diced and cooked (if using frozen, cook according to package directions)
  • 2 cups red or Yukon potatoes, cooked and cubed (if using frozen, cook according to package directions)
  • 1 cup peas (if using frozen, do not cook first)

Pie Crust

 FILLING:

Heat chicken or turkey stock with all the spices on the stove or in microwave (this gives the seasoning time to release the flavors). In a 3½ to 4 qt. heavy pot, sauté onions in a little olive oil until soft, add wine to deglaze the pan and reduce by half. Remove from pan for later use. In the same pot, melt butter and add the All-Purpose Flour Artisan Blend, stirring constantly for a minute or two. This is the base for your roux.

Once roux has cooked for a minute or so, slowly add hot liquid, constantly whisking as it thickens. This will take a minute or two. Once thickened, add onions back in and mix well. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until fully thickened. Remove from heat and let it cool until just warm.

In a large bowl, gently mix together the chicken or turkey, carrots and potatoes, and then pour the warm sauce in and gently mix well until incorporated. Last, add frozen peas. Store in refrigerator until totally cool — overnight is best, or you can freeze.

MAKING INDIVIDUAL POT PIES:

You will need ramekins or glass baking cups/bowls, large enough to hold enough filling for 1 person, about 1 cup. You will need approximately one recipe pie dough from either Pie Dough with All-Purpose Flour Artisan Blend or Pie Dough with Bread Mix. Depending on the size of ramekins used, you may need to double the crust recipe.

Mix together pie dough according to directions. Divide dough in half. Pat one half into a square, wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside.

Spray a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap with non-stick spray and flatten and pat the remaining dough into a rectangle or square. Spray another piece parchment or plastic wrap and lay it on top. Roll the dough to desired thickness, no thicker than ¼ “. Place rolled dough on a sheet pan and refrigerate while rolling the second piece. It is easiest to cut and remove scraps when dough is chilled and stiff. Using a pot lid or knife, cut desired size circles. You want the dough 1½ to 2” bigger than the top of your ramekin. Cut as many circles as you can, then re-roll scraps and repeat process until all dough is used. Keep circles chilled, covered, and with wax paper in-between, until ready to use.

ASSEMBLY:

If cooking right after assembly, pre-heat oven to 425°. Take out dough to let rest a minute until it warms up just a little and can easily be manipulated with your fingers. Spray ramekins with non-stick spray, fill almost to the top with chilled filling, and repeat until all are filled.

Cover each ramekin with a dough circle slightly larger than top. Gently try to pull dough flat so the crust is not all lying on filling. Using your fingers press the top dough over the rim, crimp the dough up like a pie crust, then press the remaining dough down onto the sides of the ramekin, so it sticks to the sides. Make sure it is securely attached all the way around to prevent seeping sauce down the sides. (You can leave the edges plain with no crimp, and then add a decoration of small shapes cut from the extra dough with very small cookie cutters.) Place on parchment-lined, rimmed sheet pan in refrigerator to chill and let edges of dough set. Repeat until all pies are completed and chilled. Once the dough is chilled and hard on top, cut 3 or 4 slits in the top. Bake, or wrap well and freeze.

Optional egg wash: Brush tops with one egg yolk mixed well with 1 TBSP milk or water for a nice brown top.

BAKE:

Bake in pre-heated oven at 425° for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 375° for about 20 minutes until crust is golden and the filling is bubbling a little under the crust.

Chef’s Note: left over filling is great served with rice.

Lidia’s Got Your Back with Commonsense Italian Cooking

Years of fame from authoring best selling cookbooks, hosting TV cooking shows, opening restaurants and gourmet food stores, including the many Eataly stores including the one in Chicago that opened eight years ago, and creating her own line of pastas, sauces and readymade foods hasn’t even slightly dimmed Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s enthusiasm for spreading the word about the glories of Italian cuisine. Indeed, if she had her way, we’d all be experts in Italian cooking.

“Italian food is very simple,” Bastianich tells me as we chat about her cookbooks including one of my favorites, Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking: 150 Delicious and Simple Recipes Anyone Can Master (Knopf $35), which she co-authored with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali. “It’s all about good ingredients and not fretting about the recipes.”

Passing on the traditions learned from helping her mother and grandmother cook, Bastianich revels in the email and comments she gets from fans crediting her with teaching them how to cook Italian.

“People think I don’t know how to make an artichoke or risotto or pasta,” she says, “and when they learn, they are so excited. At one of my book signings, a woman told me that when her kids get home from school and they ask what’s for dinner, if she says I’m cooking Lidia, they’re happy.”

In her book, Bastianich expounds on using our judgment when it comes to cooking.

“We all have commonsense in life, in the kitchen we all have it too, this book brings it out,” she says. “It’s straightforward. Recipes are not law. It’s okay to change a recipe according to what we have in the house. I want people to be comfortable with food.”

Intense food memories of her grandmother’s Italian kitchen mix with those of coming to America at age 11 at a time when the Italian ingredients we take for granted now—fresh ricotta, pasta and mozzarella, a wide selection of Italian charcuterie, the Arborio rice necessary for making risotto and high end canned tomatoes—were difficult if not impossible to find. Bastianich describes herself as feeling “yanked from a cocoon.” And indeed life was much different. From milking goats and helping harvest the seasonal garden bounty, she instead wanted to be American which meant eating like an American.

“I was intrigued by Jell-O and TV dinners because that’s what being Americans was— heat up a TV dinner and sit in front of the TV to eat,” she recalls. “Sometimes my mom would give me a fried zucchini sandwich for school. I was so embarrassed. In high school and college you did what your peers do.  My mother was very upset.”

Fortunately, not only for her mother but for American home cooks, Bastianich, realizing she had a heritage that was rich, reconnected to her roots and became an advocate for real food versus what she calls American “utility” food.

“My father never would have eaten a TV dinner,” she says. “Food has given me so much. If I can share that it’s a great gift.”

Sidebar: Mega Italian

Partnering with her son Joe as well as several others, Bastianich opened the 50,000-square-foot Eataly in Manhattan over a decade ago, the group then brought the concept of all thing’s Italian cuisine-wise to other cities including Chicago. The two-story 60,000-square-foot store features a plethora of restaurants, cooking classes a gelateria for gelato lovers and enough retail food vendors to send even the most blasé foodie into overdrive. On October 22 & 23, Eataly is presenting their Tuscan Wine & Cheese event, a focus on artisanal cheeses, regional wines, and seasonal bites on October 22 & 23, Eataly Restaurant Fest until October 31, and How to Eataly offering tips for living and eating better as well as getting the most out of fall until November 1. As for other events, there are cooking classes, market tours, and more all the time.

Eataly is located at 43 E. Ohio St., Chicago, IL; 212-229-2560 http://www.eataly.com/eataly-chicago

The following recipes are from Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.

Chicken Breast with Orange and Gaeta Olives
Pollo con Olive ed Aranci

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds thin sliced chicken cutlets
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • all-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, halved
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fennel powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and butter. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and lightly dredge it in flour. Lightly brown the chicken in the skillet (you want the chicken to end up with a blonde-colored crust and slowly build the color, and flavor, up) on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Cook the chicken in batches, if necessary, depending on the size of your skillet. Remove to a plate as it is colored.

Once the chicken is colored, add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the olives, orange juice and zest, white wine and fennel powder. Add chicken back to the skillet and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce coats the chicken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with remaining salt, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

Food Network Ina Garten Panettone Bread Pudding

Lidia’s Pear Bread Pudding

  • 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream, plus more to whip for garnish
  • 4 cups day- old 1/2-inch country- bread cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup blanched sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the baking dish with softened butter. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the vanilla, and lemon zest, and whisk to lighten the mixture. Whisk in the milk and heavy cream. Add the bread and pears, and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the almond slices.

Bake until the pudding is set and puffy and the top is golden, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes; serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with whipped cream.

Serving Size

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Apple Cake

Serves 4

  • 2.2 pounds golden delicious apples
  • 2 eggs
  • 3.5 ounces flour
  • 3.5 ounces sugar
  • 3.5 ounces Amaretti
  • 3.5 ounces butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 pack yeast for baking

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an -8– or -9–inch springform pan.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and white sugar until pale and light, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, another minute or two. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the mixer with the lemon zest, and mix until just combined. In a medium bowl, toss together the apples, brown sugar, and walnuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and then sprinkle with the apple mixture.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then unmold, and cut into wedges to serve.

Lidia’s newest cookbook, A Pot, A Pan, and A Bowl: Simple Recipes for Perfect Meals was just released, here’s a recipe from the book. Find more recipes on her Facebook page.

Follow Lidia at @lidiabastianich

Back to the Islands: The 14th Annual Savor the San Juans

For those who have never been, the San Juans, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Washington State and easily accessible by ferry, are a magical combo of natural beauty, nature’s bounty found in farms, orchards, wineries, a cultural dedication to sustainability, land stewardship, and small food producers as well as delightfully charming small towns and villages set against the backdrop of Puget Sound.

Now, after a year of pandemic and social distancing, it’s time to celebrate to return to the island and experience in real time the food and farm culture of Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan islands, the largest of archipelago’s 170 islands.

And what better time to do so than during the 14th Annual Savor the San Juans? It’s a fine time to taste and tour with so many special events going on such as harvest dinners, film festivals, farm tours, wine tastings, demonstrations, and more. And of course, there’s plenty to explore on your own as well.

Upcoming tours and events

October 14-17 Friday Harbor Film Festival

October 16-17: Lopez Island Farm Tour

October 16: San Juan Island Farmers Market

October 29: Alchemy Art Center: October Sip ‘N’ Sculpt with Maria Michaelson!

November 12-14: Hops on the Rock Orcas Island Beer Fest

Information on Local Flavor Specials can be found here.

Getting there, visit here.

Where to stay And what to do.

Can’t make it this year, then bring a little of the island into your kitchen with the following recipe.

 Cook Like a Coho Restaurant Chef: Roasted Garlic, Pear, and Goat Cheese Flatbread

Ingredients for Flatbread Dough

1 tsp active dry or instant yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
3/4 c warm water
2 c (250g) all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp for brushing the dough
1 tsp salt

How to Make Flatbread Dough

Mix the ingredients together by hand or use the dough hook of a stand mixer.

If making by hand, place dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the middle, and add wet ingredients. Incorporate the wet with the dry and knead for ten minutes. If using an electric mixer, place all ingredients in the bowl and beat for five minutes, until all the ingredients come together into a smooth ball.

Place dough in a greased mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and separate in half. Form each half of the dough into rounds.
Sprinkle the countertop with flour.

Take your rounds and roll them out to a football shape and length. Press your fingers lightly into the dough and dimple. This helps prevent any large air bubbles. Brush with olive oil to keep the crust crisp.

For best results, especially if this is your first time making flatbread, bake the flatbread before topping it. Transfer dough to a baking sheet. There is no need for parchment paper with this dough.

Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Top with goat cheese, garlic, and pear. Bake for another 5 minutes.

Top with arugula and balsamic reduction.


Balsamic Reduction

1 cup balsamic vinegar

How to Reduce Vinegar

Pour balsamic vinegar in a shallow pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Let reduce until your balsamic is a thick consistency and coats the back of your spoon.

Roasted Garlic

4 cloves of garlic

How to Roast Garlic

Peel four cloves of garlic and place in oil until submerged, cover with aluminum foil and roast at 450°F for fifteen minutes or until golden brown. You will be able to smell the garlic when it’s ready.

Whipped Goat Cheese

1/3 cup goat cheese
2 tsp water

How to Whip Goat Cheese

Place goat cheese and water in a blender or food processor. Blend for two minutes until it is smooth and easy to spread.

A Taste of the Old World: Old Amsterdam Gouda and Goat Cheeses

Call it the cheese of autumn. Gouda, the classic cheese of the Netherlands, is perfect for crisp autumn days. Old Amsterdam Cheese, a versatile cheese which adapts itself well to all types of food from salads to burgers to great toasted cheese sandwiches or toasties, is a top leader in the Branded Aged Gouda Market in Holland and now in the U.S. That popularity is now translating to the U.S.

. As Americans up their cheese game to full-flavored tastes, Old Amsterdam has just the right line-up.  

  • Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda known as The Classic, is the #1 Aged Gouda in Holland.  The Classic Gouda is aged for a minimum of 8 months creating a perfect balance between sweet and savory.  It has rich butterscotch undertones and a dense, smooth texture sparked with fine ripening crystals. This popular and well-loved favorite from Holland has won numerous awards and is loved internationally. It is ideal for cheese platters, recipes, and other pairings such as almonds, jam, fruit chutney, fruits, raisin nut bread, and crackers. The Classic also pairs well with a favorite wine, beer, or cocktail.  
  • Old Amsterdam Goat Gouda has been voted the #1 Hard Goat’s Milk cheese in the world.  The Goat Gouda is aged for a minimum of 8 months and has a very surprisingly and pleasant flavor profile:  refreshingly sweet with caramel undertones and a smooth, creamy texture with fine ripening crystals.  The sweetness and texture make this great to top on salads, with sandwiches, and in many popular recipes. It pairs well on a platter with hazelnuts, figs, fruits, and your favorite IPA. 

With their deep, rich, and nutty flavors, Old Amsterdam pairs perfectly with fall foods such as apples, late harvest grapes, pumpkin, pears, Balsamic vinegar, Spanish paprika, and others.

Old Amsterdam can be purchased through e-commerce at https://shop.norseland.com/old-amsterdam and at such retailers as King’s, Raley’s, ShopRite, Albertsons, Trader Joes, Gelson’s, HEB, Hy-Vee, Lunds & Byerlys, Mariano’s, Pavilions, Safeway, Sprouts.

Old Amsterdam Burger

Cooking time 40 minutes – Serves 4

· 2 red onions

· 2 tablespoons butter

· 2 tablespoons sugar

· 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

· Salt and freshly ground black pepper

· 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

· 2 teaspoons spicy pimentón (Spanish paprika) powder

· 1.6 lbs. minced beef (ask the butcher to coarsely mince beef shoulder, or use a mix of pork and beef meat)

· 2 tablespoons soy sauce

· 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

· 4 tablespoons olive oil

· 8 slices pancetta

· 4 slices Old Amsterdam

· 1 big tomato

· 8 slices of rustic, heavy bread

· 4 lettuce leaves, rinsed

Slice the onion into rings.

Melt the butter and use this to fry the onion rings with the sugar. Caramelize the rings, then add balsamic vinegar and fry for another 5 minutes on low heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Next, mix the mayonnaise and the Spanish paprika. Take the meat from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Mix the meat with the soy sauce and the Worcestershire sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

Roll balls of approximately 6 oz. each and flatten these to form burgers. Coat the burgers with olive oil and fry in a frying pan for 4 to 5 minutes on each side until browned. Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in another pan until they are slightly crispy.

Lay pancetta and a slice of Old Amsterdam on top of each burger. Cover with the lid and let the cheese melt for about 30 seconds. Cut the tomato into four thick slices. Spread a thick layer of the spicy mayonnaise on 4 slices of bread. Add a slice of tomato, a burger, and finally a good helping of the caramelized onion rings and top it with another slice of bread each.

Old Amsterdam Rustic Toastie Sandwich

5 minutes – Serves 1

· 8 slices rustic bread

· 4 tablespoons mayonnaise

· 8 slices Old Amsterdam

· 8 slices shoulder ham

· ½ leek

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Place the slices of bread on a bread board and spread a generous layer of mayonnaise over them. Turn four slices over and place cheese and ham on top. Slice the leek into very fine rings and put these on the toasties.

Then place the other slices of bread on top, with the mayonnaise side upwards. Warm a frying pan and fry two toasties until they have nice brown crusts. Flip over and repeat. Do the same with other two toasties, while keeping the first two warm in the preheated oven. Serve with spicy mustard.

Salad with Shaved Old Amsterdam, Radicchio, and Chicken

60 minutes – Serves 4

· 2 chicken thighs

· 5 tablespoons olive oil

· 4 radicchio stalks

· 2 sticks of celery

· 1 tablespoon mustard

· 1 tablespoon mayonnaise

· 1 tablespoon vinegar

· Salt and pepper

· 1 head of curly endive

· A few sprigs of flat parsley

· 2 handfuls of seedless black grapes

· A piece of Old Amsterdam

Season the chicken. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan and fry the drumsticks so they are brown all over. Put the heat down to a low setting, add a splash of water and leave the chicken to cook for 30 minutes (you may need to add more water if the chicken gets dry). Leave it to cool and cut the meat into pieces.

Cut the radicchio stalks lengthways down the middle and remove the core. Then cut them into strips. Remove the strings from the celery sticks and slice them diagonally into thin rings. Make a vinaigrette with the mustard, mayonnaise, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Add the rest of the olive oil and beat it into a smooth dressing. In a bowl, mix the radicchio, curly endive and celery and then add the dressing. Divide this between 4 plates, put the chicken and grapes on top, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and finish with shavings of Old Amsterdam

Old Amsterdam Grazing Board

· Your favorite Old Amsterdam cheeses, cut and sliced as you wish

· Charcuterie (e.g., prosciutto, salami, chorizo), if desired

·Fruits (e.g., berries, oranges, grapes)

· Vegetables (e.g., carrots, celery, radishes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, endive leaves)

· Nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts)

· Crackers, breads, and/or crunchies (e.g., popcorn, baked chickpeas, pretzels)

· Condiments (e.g., specialty mustards, honey, jams, preserves)

Arrange your grazing platter by spreading items around grazing board and enjoy

  Lighthouse Wine Shop: A Beacon to Great Vino in Southwest Michigan

       Cade Carmichael doesn’t want us to drink what he calls “supermarket wines” but he also isn’t advocating we take out a loan for an expensive bottle of wine. That’s why when he opened Lighthouse Wine Shop last year in St. Joseph, Michigan he decided to feature value wines.

         “I didn’t want to start off with big wine names,” he says. “Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive.  Value wines are those that taste like they should cost more than they do.”

         It’s all about knowing where to look and for those of us who don’t want to begin the laborious process of understanding the intricacies of every wine region and producer, Carmichael is willing to do the hard work for us. His fascination with wines came not from living in Southwest Michigan where we have a wonderful abundance of wineries but when he moved with his wife to Frankfurt, Germany where they lived for five years before returning to this area. From Frankfurt, it was easy to explore the wine regions of such countries as France and Italy as well as Germany.

         In the wine appellation of Côte de Nuit Villages in Burgundy, a historic region of France that produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. Appellation or appellation d’origine contrôlée or AOC which stands for “controlled designation of origin” is certification granted by the government that refers to the area’s agriculture products—a list that includes not only wines, but other categories such as cheeses and butters.

         But the thing is, Carmichael tells me, is there are some value wines from the Côte de Nuit Villages that are very affordable if you know where to look. He shows me bottles from Domaine Faively, a winery founded in 1825 in the Nuits-St. Georges.

         “Right next to Nuits-St. Georges is a small village called Vosne-Romanee,” says Carmichael. Another historic village like Nuits-St. Georges, Vosne-Romanee is known as having some of the most expensive burgundies in the world.

         “Vosne-Romanee literally shares a border with Nuits- St. Georges, so they have the same soil and growing conditions- the vineyards facing east get the morning sun and shade in the evening,” says Carmichael. “But there’s a huge difference.”

That means instead of spending a small fortune for a bottle from Vosne-Romanee, you can enjoy the wines of the Côte de Nuit Villages by choosing those produced by wineries in Nuits-St. Georges.

         In an interesting aside, Carmichael tells me that China is now producing Bordeaux style wines, using five Noble varietals— Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot—which comprise the best for making that type of wine. How is it working out?  Well, the 2013 vintage from Ao Yun—the name means flying above the clouds as the winery is 8,500 feet above sea level, in the foothills of the Himalayas that has similar growing conditions to the Bordeaux region of France—was awarded  a score of 93 by Wine Advocate and sells for around $300. But that’s an aside.

         When sourcing his wines Carmichael looks, of course, for value but also the unique such as those made from indigenous or natural yeast rather than cultivated yeast. Sometimes, through diligent searching he’s able to score big.

         “I bought the last three cases of Terreno Vitigno,” he says about a wine from Monleale, a sub region of Piedmont in the Tortonese hills of Italy. “It’s all that’s available.”

         He also has (or maybe had as Lighthouse’s specials sell out very quickly) Piccolo Derthona made from Timorasso, a varietal grape that’s nearly extinct.

         “I try to find things—they’re not weird—but unique,” he says.

         The Lighthouse Wine Shop is in the small mall on the corner of Glenlord Road and Red Arrow Highway and right across the street from Coach’s Bar & Grill in Stevensville. In keeping with Carmichael’s vow not to be a cookie cutter type place, he and his father-in-law built display boxes, used wine barrels as tables for showcasing wines. His wines are divided by country and there’s a good representation of Italy, Spain, France, South America, and California to name a few.

He also sells wine accoutrements like corkscrews, gift baskets and boxes. A major focal point on the store is the large white board or what Carmichael calls “a lyric board” that changes. He uses vinyl records for the music that plays in the background. The groups performing are modern and include Phoebe Bridgers & Waxahatchee as well as classics such as Johnny Cash, the Beatles and Chicago. Speaking of the latter, Carmichael says that his Chicago patrons seem to prefer French wines while those from this area choose Italian. He thinks that might a reflection of Whirlpool Corp. having manufacturing plants in Cassinetta, Naples, and Trento in Italy. Coincidentally as he’s saying this, Doug Washington walks in to buy a bottle of Italian red wine. A Whirlpool employee he says he worked for the company in Italy.

         When I started working on this column, I received an email from Janet Fletcher, who lives in Napa Valley, California  where she develops and tests recipes for cookbooks and magazine features, evaluate cheeses for her classes and columns, does extensive gardening, and prepares dinner nightly with her winemaker husband. I’ve talked to her frequently in the past and wrote about several of her cookbooks including Wine Country Table and Cheese and Beer. I also follow her blog Planet Cheese.

Fletcher, who has won three James Beard Awards and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Bert Greene Award, has a new cookbook out called Gather: Casual Cooking from Wine Country Gardens and I asked her if she would share recipes. She agreed, including recipes easily made at home and the California wines she suggests using when serving them.

The following are recipes she shared along with anecdotes about their origins and Fletcher’s wine recommendations. These wines are necessarily easily available but when a Merlot is called for you can substitute a local Merlot or one from another area though keep in mind that Fletcher paired her food and wines very carefully.

Maggie’s Ranch Chicken

Serves 4

Ranch chicken has nothing to do with ranch dressing, says Katie Wetzel Murphy of Alexander Valley Vineyards. “It’s what we called this dish as kids,” she recalls. “It seems that my mother, Maggie, only made it when we came to ‘The Ranch,’ which is what we called the vineyards before we had a winery.” Baked with honey, mustard, and tarragon, the quartered chicken emerges with a crisp brown skin, and the sweet aroma draws everyone to the kitchen. “Kids like it and adults like it,” says Katie, “and most of the food we make has to be that way.”

1 whole chicken, 4 to 4 1/2 pounds, backbone removed, then quartered

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup honey

4 tablespoons salted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 fresh tarragon sprigs, each 6 inches long

Wine: Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the chicken quarters all over with salt and pepper. Put the quarters into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a small saucepan, combine the honey, butter, and mustard over low heat and stir until the butter melts. Pour the honey mixture evenly over the chicken. Place a tarragon sprig on each quarter.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, then remove the dish from the oven, spoon the dish juices over the chicken, and return the dish to the oven for 30 minutes more. The chicken will be fully cooked, with beautifully browned skin. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle.

Antipasto Platter with Southern-Style Pickled Okra

Makes 6 pints

“Napa Valley’s Regusci Winery proprietor, Laura Regusci, developed a passion for pickling in her grandmother’s Kentucky kitchen,” he writes. The family pastime began as a way to preserve vegetables for winter and share homegrown gifts with neighbors. Today, Laura carries on the tradition, growing okra and other seasonable vegetables in the Regusci estate garden for pickling. Each Thanksgiving, pickled okra adds a southern spirit to the family’s antipasto board

3 pounds small okra

6 cups distilled white vinegar

4 cups water

1/2 cup kosher or sea salt

1/4 cup sugar

For Each Pint Jar:

1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1/4 teaspoon dill seeds

6 black peppercorns

6 cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 fresh oregano sprig

1 bay leaf

Pinch of ground coriander

Pinch of red chile flakes

When creating the antipasto platter use the pickled vegetables along with alongside figs, salami, other charcuterie meats, and marinated  veggies like artichokes.

Suggested Wine: Regusci Winery Rosé

Have ready six sterilized pint canning jars and two-part lids. Trim the okra stems if needed to fit the whole pods upright in the jars. Otherwise, leave the stems intact.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep hot.

Into each of the six jars, put the mustard seeds, dill seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, garlic, oregano, bay leaf, coriander, and chile flakes. Fill the jars with the okra, packing it in upright—alternating the stems up and down if needed—as tightly as possible. Fill the jars with the hot liquid, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and top each jar with a flat lid and screw band. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, then cool on racks without disturbing.

Refrigerate any jars that failed to seal and use within 2 weeks. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Wait for at least 1 week before opening a jar to allow the flavor to mellow.

In Goldberry Woods: An Inn and Farm Far Off the Beaten Path But Close to Everything

       Nestled on a peninsular formed where the curve of the Galien River is intersected by a small unnamed creek, Goldberry Woods Bed & Breakfast is definitely off the beaten path even for those who know their way around the backroads of Southwest Michigan.

       “Yet we’re close to Lake Michigan and Red Arrow Highway,” says Julie Haberichter who with her husband Eric own and operate the inn.

       You wouldn’t guess that by looking around at the surrounding woods and lack of traffic sounds. And, of course, that’s part of the charm. Here on 30 acres of woods, old and new orchards, grapevines, and gardens, the Haberichters have re-imagined an old time resort albeit one with all the modern twists—swimming pool, farm-to-table cuisine, kayaks ready to go on the banks of the Galien, walking trails, and cottages and their Innkeeper’s Inn with suites for large groups or individual stays.

       Goldberry Woods is the story of how a couple painstakingly restored a resort that had fallen into disrepair, creating a major destination for those who want to get away from it all.

       But this is also a story about how two engineering majors from the Chicagoland area met in college, discovered they lived just towns apart, married, honeymooned at a B&B that was a working flower farm in Hawaii and decided that quirky inns were the type of places they wanted to stay.

       That is, until, while vacationing in Harbor Country in 2011 they happened upon what had been the River’s Edge B&B in Union Pier and decided that unique places were instead where they wanted to live. By 2012, Julie and Eric had bought the property, restored it and had opened Goldberry Woods B&B.

       A little more explaining is needed here. If you’re like me and are thinking goldberries are some rare, antique type fruit like say lingonberries, marionberries, or gooseberries, you’d be very wrong. It turns out that Goldberry, also known as the River Woman’s Daughter,  was a minor character in Christopher Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, though she never made it into the movie series. An ethereal blonde with a penchant for green velvet gowns, she was from the Withywindle River in the Old Forest and certainly seems as though she’d be at home here surrounded by ripening fruit and veggies.

       It’s obvious that the Haberichters are more familiar with The Lord of the Rings than I am but then Julie also knows someone who learned to speak Elvish, the language of the elves. If that sounds unique, consider this. According to some sources, there are more people now who speak Elvish as it is spoken in The Lord of the Rings movies than Irish.

       Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure but the name Goldberry does speak to the charm of this place where the Haberichters forage and grow old fashioned foods, plant organic, practice sustainability, and  harvest the eggs from the heirloom chickens, ducks, and quail that at times run free range in Goldberry’s gardens.

       Julie brims with excitement as she takes me on a tour, pointing out the novelty and heritage produce she grows. There are pumpkin eggplants also known as pumpkin-on-a-stick which indeed look like miniature pumpkins, ground cherries which she uses in her Jasmine and lemon tea,  Malabar spinach with its rich glossy oversized leaves, and cucumelons (tiny little veggies that can be eaten straight from the vine) among many others.

Because what’s in season changes quickly as does the weather, there’s always something different or a variation of a favorite at Goldberry Woods.

       “The oatmeal we serve at Goldberry Woods is constantly changing from season to season, served hot or chilled based on the outdoor weather and the availability of seasonal fruit,” says Julie, who shared the summer version of her Chilled Coconut Steel Cut Oatmeal (see below).

       There’s also some serious forging going on.

       “We started looking for as many fun and unusual ways to use the wild plants growing throughout our flower beds and woods as possible,” says Julie. “ We have experimented with dandelions, violets, spruce tips, and sassafras to name a few.”

       While she’s talking, Julie brings out glass jars of jam. I try the spruce tips—made from the new tips of the spruce tree at the beginning of spring. Scooping up a small teaspoon to try, I note a definite evergreen taste, refreshing and somewhat woodsy with just a touch of sweetness. It would work on buttered biscuits, toast or even as sauce for lamb and pork. The violet jam is a deep purple and there’s an assortment of pepper jams such as habanero gold pepper jelly with chopped sweet apricots. Unfortunately, Julie didn’t any have jars of the dandelion jam or the pear lime ginger jelly she makes—it goes fast. But she had a large bushel basket full of colorful peppers which would soon become a sweet and spicy jam.

  August, she told me as we walked into the old growth orchard, was begging her to make a yellow floral jelly from goldenrod flowers. So that was the next chore of many on her list.

       Having learned to determine the edibility of certain mushrooms she forages the safe ones from where they grow in the woods, frying up such fungi as puff balls which she describe as having a custard-like interior. In the spring, there are fiddlehead greens easily available, but Julie has to trade for ramps which though they seem to grow wild every place where there are woods, don’t appear anywhere within Goldberry’s 30 acres.

       Now focused fully on running Goldberry Woods and raising their three daughters, Julie previously worked as a chemical engineer in a food processing plant that used a million gallons of corn syrup per day. Now she teaches classes in how to harvest honey–there are, naturally, bee hives on the property.  If all this sounds like a real divergence from a career in corn syrup and a degree in chemical engineering, Julie started an environmental club in high school and gardened in college.

       Unfortunately, you can’t eat at Goldberry Woods unless you’re an overnight guest. But you can stop and visit as the couple has set up their Goldberry Market in a 1970s trailer.  It’s very cute plus they have an outdoors stand on the property. They also take their produce to the New Buffalo Farmer’s Market which is held on Thursday evenings. As for what to do with the unique produce they sell, there are recipes on their website and Julie will always take the time to give ideas. It’s her passion to share the best of what Southwest Michigan produces.

For more information, visit goldberrywoods.com

The following recipes are courtesy of Goldberry Woods.

Chilled Coconut Steel Cut Oatmeal

Serves 8

  • 2 cups coconut milk (1 can)
  • ½ cup steel cut oats
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • ¼ cup of seeds such as quinoa, chia, flax or amaranth
  • ¼-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Fresh sliced peaches

Bring coconut milk, 2 cups of water, salt, and the steel cut oats to full boil in an 8-cup microwaveable bowl, approximately 6 minutes.  Do not let the oats boil over as this makes a sticky mess.

Remove bowl to the counter and stir.  Allow the concoction to cool down a bit, stirring occasionally, maybe 30 minutes (this is to keep from heating up your fridge!)  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, add the old fashioned oats, seeds, sugar and spices.

You may need to add more liquid at this time to reach your desired consistency.  We find this recipe to be refreshing and like the oatmeal to be a bit thin.  Adjust sweetness to your taste.

If it’s chilly out, reheat in the microwave.

Here’s the fun part.  Stir in whatever looks good to your taste.  Here are some ideas:

  • Use coconut milk and stir in vanilla, shredded coconut, bananas, honey, dried apricots, almonds….
  • Use apple cider and stir in applesauce, sautéed apples, raisins, nuts, maple syrup, walnuts

Goldberry Woods Egg Rollup

Makes about 8 servings

Egg Mixture

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 12 eggs
  • Salt and pepper

Filling

  • 12 ounces precooked meat and veggies of your choosing (Malabar Spinach, sausage, ham, bacon, asparagus, peppers, greens, mushrooms…..)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (we usually use a good sharp cheddar and a shredded Monterey Jack that melts well—feta is great, too)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Combine all the Egg Mixture Ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Spread parchment over a 11×17 jelly roll, tucking into the corners.  Pour the egg mixture onto the parchment paper.

Bake the eggs for 15-20 minutes.  Wait until the top sets completely.

Remove the egg roll pan and spread the filling over the eggs evenly.

Use a towel and the parchment paper to tightly roll up the eggs.  Leave the seam side down and cover the whole rollup with the parchment paper so that it doesn’t dry out.

Return to the oven for 10 more minutes to allow the cheese to melt and the filling to heat up.

Slice into 1 ½ inch slices.

About 8 servings.

Golden Rod Jelly

YIELD: Makes 4 pints

  • 8 cups packed Goldenrod flowers
    4 teaspoons lemon juice
    2 packages pectin powder
    6 cups sugar

Make a goldenrod tea.  Put the flowers in a stainless steel pot and add just enough cool water to cover. Bring to a gentle simmer for 3 minutes.  Turn off the heat and allow the flowers to  steep for at least an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the flowers through a fine metal sieve.  Gently squeeze excess liquid from the flowers.  Measure 5 cups of liquid.  Add water if necessary.

Place goldenrod tea back into pot and add lemon juice.  Add the pectin, stir, and bring to a boil until pectin is fully dissolved.

Add sugar and bring to a full boil for one minute. Remove from heat and pour into sterile canning jars.  Keep jelly in the fridge for up to one month.

What to do in Union Pier

While visiting Goldberry Woods, take time to stop at St. Julian Winery’s tasting location in Union Pier. St. Julian is the oldest winery in the state. There’s also the Round Barn Tasting Room next door.

Stop at Union Pier Market for a great selection of gourmet goods, beer, and wine. Next door, also on Townline Road, is the Black Currant Bakehouse for made from scratch pastries as well as sandwiches and such distinctive beverages as their Rose Quartz Latte, Chaga Chai, and Honey Lavender Latte. Milda’s Corner Market next to Union Pier Market features foods from over 40 countries and freshly made Lithuanian fare including “Sūreliai” Mini Cheesecake bars, Koluduna (dumplings), and Kugelis.

Head to Townline Beach and then consider dinner at The Grove Restaurant, just off Townline Road and steps from the beach.

For more information on what to do in the area, visit Harbor Country.

The article on Goldberry Woods previously ran in the Herald Palladium.

They Ate What? Antique Cookbooks and the Meals of Olde

Still cursing at yourself for the extra helping of potato salad and sweet tea not to mention the second piece of blueberry pie at the family picnic last week?  Well, imagine how you’d feel after attending this 1450 banquet, held in England for the enthronement of an archbishop where guests munched on 104 oxen, six ‘wylde bulles,’ 1,000 sheep, 400 swans and such game birds such as bustards (larger than a turkey), cranes, bitterns, curlews and herons.

“Our ancestors had gastronomic guts,” Anne Willan tells me as we chat on the phone, she in Santa Monica, California where there’s sunshine and me in the cold Great Lakes region.  I find it fascinating to read old menus and descriptions of banquets and feasts and for that Willan, founder of famed French cooking school École de Cuisine la Varenne, recipient of the IACP Lifetime Achievement Award and author of more than 30 cookbooks, is the go to person.

Even better, after collecting cookbooks for more than 50 years and amassing a collection of over 5000 tomes, several years ago Willan and her husband, Mark Cherniavsky immersed themselves in their antiquarian cookbook library and came out with The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook (University of California Press $50).

“Seals were eaten on fast days along with whale, dolphin, porpoise and thousands of other fish,” says Willan. Hmmm…that’s different than the macaroni and cheese and fish sticks I used to eat at the homes of my Catholic friends on Fridays.

Here we peruse four centuries of gastronomy including the heavily spiced sauces of medieval times (sometimes employed because of the rankness of the meat), the massive roasts and ragoûts of Sun King Louis XIV’s court and the elegant eighteenth-century chilled desserts. One for the interesting detail, Willan also tells the story of cookbook writing and composition from the 1500s to the early 19th century. She highlights how each of the cookbooks reflects its time, ingredients and place, the  recipes adapted among the cuisines of Germany, England, France, Italy and Spain as well as tracing the history of the recipe.

Historic cookbooks can be so much different than ours, ingredients unfamiliar and instructions rather vague. For example, Willan points out the phrase “cook until” was used due to the difficulty of judging the level of heat when cooking a dish over the burning embers in an open hearth. It wasn’t until the cast-iron closed stoves of the 19th century that recipes writers begin were finally able to give firm estimates for timing.

For food historians and even those just appreciative of a good meal, the book is fascinating. For me as a food writer, I wonder about covering a dinner where birds flew out of towering pastries, seals were served and eels baked into pies and it was often wise to have a taster nearby in case someone was trying to poison you.

The following recipes are from The Cookbook Library.

Duxelles – Mushroom Hash

Duxelles is a classic French preparation of butter-cooked chopped mushrooms flavored with shallots. It is said to have been created by François Pierre de la Varenne. La Varenne’s book, Le Cuisinier Francois (The French cook, 1651), was one of two books  Willan says strongly influenced the evolution of French classical cuisine.  You can use the duxelles to make mushroom tarts, as a stuffing for fish and even put it in spaghetti sauce.

  • 1⁄2 pound mushrooms, rinsed, patted dry
  • 11⁄2 teaspoon butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced salt and freshly ground pepper

Chop mushrooms in food processor with pulsing motion so they are chopped in fine pieces but are not pureed. In a medium-size skillet heat butter over low heat. Add shallot and sauté about 1⁄2 minute until soft but not brown. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture is dry. Serve hot.

Rich Seed Cake with Caraway And Cinnamon

This recipe is based on a cake in The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, published in London in the 1700s.  Willan, ever the purist, suggests mixing the batter by hand as it was done 300 plus year ago.

“The direct contact with the batter as it develops from a soft cream to a smooth, fluffy batter is an experience not to be missed,” she says. “If you use an electric mixer, the batter is fluffier but the cake emerges from the oven less moist and with a darker crust.”

At times, Willan needs to substitute ingredients. The original recipe listed ambergris as an option for flavoring the cake. “Ambergris,” writes Willan, “a waxy secretion from a sperm whale, was once used to perfume foods. As it is now a rare ingredient, I’ve opted for Mrs. Smith’s second suggestion, of cinnamon, which marries unexpectedly well with caraway.”

  • 1 pound or 3 1⁄2 cups) flour
  • 1 2⁄3 cups sugar
  • 6  tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 pound or 2 cups butter, more for the pan
  • 11⁄2 tablespoon rose water or orange-flower water
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 325ºF. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Sift together the flour and sugar into a medium bowl, and stir in the caraway seeds. Separate the whole eggs, putting all the yolks together and straining the whites into a small bowl to remove the threads.

Cream the butter either by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the yolks two at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the rose water. Whisk the egg whites just until frothy, then beat them, a little at a time, into the egg yolk mixture. Beat in the cinnamon. Finally, beat in the flour mixture, sprinkling it a little at a time over the batter. This should take at least 15 minutes by hand, 5 minutes with a mixer. The batter will lighten and become fluffier. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake until the cake starts to shrink from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean when withdrawn, 1 1⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 hours. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack until tepid, then unmold it and leave it to cool completely on the rack. When carefully wrapped, it keeps well at room temperature for several days and the flavor will mellow.