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Archive for September, 2011

It’s been a great week of going to inspired local events and places. Only the first one here is food related, but the food it provides is the good old staff of life: bread. In the same neighborhood as Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream shop, two boutique toy stores, and Clancey’s meat and fish shop, is Great Harvest Bread Co., one of the most welcoming bakeries I’ve ever been in. What could be more inviting than free chunks of buttered bread and a giant teddy bear?

Their bread is not at all fancy or French, but dense, wheaty, moist, and earthy. It tastes like the bread I used to make in high school, when I started using my mom’s softcover copy of the hippie cookbook Laurel’s Kitchen to learn how to bake bread. Thick slabs of this bread make amazing French toast, the only (pseudo) Frenchification it will take.

Jack loves the Great Harvest Bread Co., too, because it has a cameo appearance in the children’s novels we’re reading now—the Julia Gillian series, by Alison McGhee, in which the main character, a fifth-grader, lives in Minneapolis.

This weekend, we made our way to downtown St. Paul for the first time, and found Mears Park, where there was a free outdoor music festival featuring local acts playing everything from Radiohead-inspired rock to alt-country and reggae on Saturday, and chamber music on Sunday. My iPhone pictures don’t capture the scene well, but here’s the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which played pieces by Bach, Handel, and Bartók.

Also on Sunday, Peter took Jack to his first literary event—I mean the first one that Jack chose to attend rather than being dragged along. Children’s author and illustrator Peter Brown was reading and signing books at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. Jack got two books signed: You Will Be My Friend and Children Make Terrible Pets, both about the efforts of an extroverted and bossy bear named Lucy to find companionship with other, seemingly uncompanionable creatures. We also love his beautiful book, The Curious Garden, an optimistic green-minded story of a post-Wall-E-ish-world utopia achieved by the unstoppable curiosity and hope of a child and his plants.

Bread, books, and music: three of life’s necessities.

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Today was the first day that really felt like fall. It was in the 50s when we ventured outside this morning to water the plants, and the clouds overhead were rushing by. Because of these early signs, I got it into my head that apple picking would be the perfect thing to do. It’s a little early, but there are some varieties ripening or ripe by now.

In the early afternoon, we made our way through the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN. We had read online that kids who colored in a printable map of the farm would get a free cider doughnut, so Jack had come prepared with a diligently colored map. When we got there, we went first to the Apple Barn and where he was given his free doughnut. I have a special nostalgia-enhanced weakness for cider doughnuts, so I had to get one, too. (The last time I was pregnant, with Jack, we lived in Berkeley, CA, and I had my mom overnight me some cider doughnuts when the season rolled around.)

Then we went picking. Because it’s only September 3rd, we were too early for Macintosh or Honeycrisp. We were limited to Paula Reds, but that was fine with us. It was just the experience we were after, and a serviceable apple for crisp.

For dinner tonight on this cool evening, we had a perfect peasant meal. I made a rustic frittata with thinly sliced potatoes and onions and two sprigs of thyme, and, of course, an apple dessert.

Apple Crumble (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)

Filling:
3 lbs. apples (I used 8 Paula Reds)
1/4 c. rum or apple cider (I used lemonade)
2 tbs. butter, melted
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Peel, core, and cube the apples. Stir together with other filling ingredients. Spoon apple mixture into a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Topping: Stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Chop up the butter and blend it in with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until it’s bubbly and a deep, golden brown.

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I love living in a place with so many bountiful farmers’ markets. And maybe it’s my small-town self coming through on Saturday mornings, but I prefer the small-scale markets. We’ve become regulars at the Fulton neighborhood market, and really, it’s not just because Patisserie 46 sets up a booth every week, although that’s definitely a draw. Would you like to see some of their tasty tidbits?

Sweet pastries deriving from various French traditions are up front, and over in the sun-washed quadrant to the right, the savory breads—airy and yet toothsome—await the more patient, or restrained, purchaser. Here’s a closer shot of the mid-morning delights that have been a staple of my pregnancy diet:

I’m partial to the almond croissants, the almond bostocks (round cakey ones on the right) and the bear-claw-looking pastries whose name I forget which are front-and-center. They are flavored with orange peel and anise, and remind me of the flavors of Sicily, although they’re probably Southern-French.

To accompany these Saturday morning treats, one must have coffee. If only someone would wheel in a decent espresso maker. But I guess that might require a generator. So instead I go for the only option at the market, which is a good one: Melitta-brewed Moonshine coffee:

Jack, like his dad, prefers savory snacks. These homemade popsicles are so uniquely and strongly flavored, some of them are practically savory. Lemon-lavender today. See that pucker?

After this thirst-quenching aperitivo, Jack enjoyed a pulled pork taco with spicy slaw from Chef Shack, which is actually a big red truck and not a shack.

And here are some of the yummies we hauled home:

I admit I was skeptical about the corn, which didn’t look as milk-and-sugary as all of the great Vermont and Massachusetts corn I had this summer. But my tastebuds were treated to just as much juicy sweetness as a corn lover could want. It was delicious!

Last night we found another reason to love Minneapolis, thanks to our new friends Andy and Katherine and their boys William and David: Minnehaha Park, where the Creek that flows through our neighborhood ends in a beautiful waterfall.

Just across the bike-and-pedestrian path from the falls is a restaurant that is as close as one can come to a New England-style clam shack in this Midwestern city. We ate dinner at an outdoor table at Sea Salt. The boys played catch, and soccer, and football in the park, and dropped in at the restaurant patio just long enough to eat some fried fish with hot sauce. The grown-ups chowed down on fish tacos, a Cuban paella-type dish, crabcakes, fried calamari, and local craft beer. The dads wanted to try the Wisconsin IPA called “Bitter Woman,” but it was tapped out. She’s popular, that one. Who would’ve thought? And for dessert, Sebastian Joe’s ice cream–locally made, inventively flavored. I love their cinnamon, and their salted caramel, but last night I stuck with vanilla. It was perfect.

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