“When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.” Wilma Rudolph
Realizing there are some mountains too high for me and some troubles beyond my control, the sun is still shining so…
BRING ON SUMMER
Mushroom season. It’s a thing. Having grown up in Iowa I know April showers translate to fungi foragers being on the prowl. Every serious forager has his secret place so don’t expect to tag along for the hunt. The more I learned about mushrooms, the more I resolved to never eat a mushroom I picked. Only in grocery stores or farmers markets in fungi I trust.
Surprisingly I never met a portobello mushroom until I ordered the widely-acclaimed veggie sandwich called a “Shroom Burger” at Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in Las Vegas. It’s a breaded and deep-fried cheese-stuffed portobello mushroom patty (or, 2, if preferred) in a brioche bun and topped with lettuce, tomato and the chain’s special sauce.
While Shake Shack’s burger was a bit too, too for me, I loved the meaty, earthy taste of the portobello. Last week I found some beautiful portobellos in the market so mushrooms were on my menu. I wasn’t disappointed by my tasty efforts. (Recipes are below.)
JUNE: SLIDING INTO SUMMER
One of the joys of my adult life has been spending my summers in Aspen. While the cultural options are enormous, it’s the recreational opportunities that Michael first introduced to me in 1988 when we moved here. After he died, which incidentally was ten years ago this month, nothing was more healing than getting back to Aspen and into the mountains. And so it continues…..
MY SUMMER JOB – As the season begins, I thought you’d like a glimpse of my “office,” where I work and what I do.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Fontina on Toast
Adapted from recipe developers Fatima Khawaja, Saveur magazine and Laura Rege @Kitchn
NOTE: I used the additional portobellos for a quiche, portobello burger, cream of mushroom soup and a main course. Laura Rege suggests adding cucumber yogurt sauce, chimichurri pesto or your favorite toppings to a burger or portobello slices for added flavor
Yield: 2 toasts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. balsamic or sherry vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp. salted butter, softened, divided
2 medium garlic clove, finely chopped (2 tsp.)
1 shallot, finely chopped (3 Tbsp.)
3 tbsp. finely chopped chives
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 Portobellos (1½ cups lightly packed is needed for the toasts)
2 thick country bread slices
2 oz. thinly sliced Fontina cheese (no substitute allowed!)
Flaky sea salt, to taste
Finely chop 1 garlic clove and place in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Add 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Whisk to combine.
Wash, dry and remove the stems from 3-4 portobello mushrooms. Add to the baking dish and marinate at room temperature until almost all of the marinade is absorbed (at least 10 and up to 30 minutes), flipping halfway through.
Place the mushrooms side by side, on the grill or in the grill pan. Cover and grill until tender and lightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes per side. 4.
While grilling the mushrooms, melt the butter in a small skillet set over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the garlic and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3–4 minutes. Add the chives and cook for another minute. Season with freshly ground black pepper and remove from the heat.
Transfer the grilled portobellos to a cutting board and coarsely chop the mushrooms. Add them to the butter mixture and toss to coat.
Drizzle a little olive oil over both sides of the bread slices, then grill, turning once, until there are grill marks on both sides, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Top the slices evenly with thin fontina slices, cover (tinfoil works well) and heat until the cheese is melted, 60-90 seconds more.
Transfer the toasts to a serving plate, top with the buttered morels. Sprinkle with the flaky salt and serve hot. These toasts are very rich and filling.
Last Tuesday a friend who lives in Mountain Valley, an East Aspen area that shares its space with wildlife habitat, called, “Hey Mary,” she said, “Can you come pick me up? There’s a moose in my front yard and I can’t get to my car.”
Honestly, Readers, this is a call every volunteer USFS Ranger can only dream about. Telling her I’d be there in ten minutes, I explained to my “new knee” we needed to ‘pick it up a notch’ for a rescue mission.
I drove up the mountain to her house, slowly pulling into her lengthy driveway. Yup, that sure looked like a moose. Although Luky had already called the police earlier in the day and they had scooted it away, it had come calling again. The police woman had claimed to know this moose. “It’s a two-to-three year old whose Mom was killed last year,” she said, “It usually hangs around with another orphan but is alone today.” (Sympathy Font kicks in.)
I wedged my car between the moose, who was only casually interested in me, and the house. Luky dashed down her steps and jumped into the car. Although the moose had moved closer, it was more curious than threatening and returned to chomping on Luky’s trees as we left.
It’s late Springtime in Aspen when wildlife emerges to roam the empty streets and meander through our neighborhoods scouting out unlocked bins! Another Mountain Valley friend watched a baby bear take down her bird feeder, rip open a bag of dirt and eat her flowers. Obviously the little guy hadn’t received the memo that bears don’t eat flowers.
It’s been a glorious week of moose, deer, bears, beavers, butterflies and chickadees feathering their nests.
LING! LING! LING!ROASTED LINGCOD WITH RED PEPPER & OLIVE RELISH
Recently Cathy O’Connell, a good friend who knows her way around the kitchen, shared a package of Ling (frozen) from bounty gifted to her by fishing buddies. She had several packages of it, was unfamiliar with Ling and suggested since she was going to Paris for 3 months, I might give it a go. (No comment on her flying to France and leaving me with fish!)
But I was intrigued by its name and determined to do justice to this generosity. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Ling is a member of the Cod family and flourishes along the Pacific coast. It is closely regulated, sustainably managed and responsibly harvested, making it a smart seafood choice.
Lingcod is a fleshy white fish, doesn’t fall apart and is full of flavor, thanks in part to the knockout relish slathered on top. Other cod or halibut would work as well. With ingredients on hand, you could be eating dinner in 30 minutes.
The glittery star of this dish is its refreshingly light relish, a reminder that condiments have ‘superhero abilities when it comes to turning everyday dishes into taste sensations.’ Keep this relish recipe in your back pocket to add a flavor burst to many-a-meal.
In fact the next day I toasted a brioche bun, piled on sliced onion and lettuce with the leftovers for a tasty lunch I was proud to serve (myself). Be creative and punch up your sides and sandwiches with this relish, store-bought condiments or mix together your own concoctions.
ROASTED LINGCOD WITH RED PEPPER & OLIVE RELISH adapted from The Original Dish blog by Kayla
4 (6 oz) skinless cod or halibut fillets
freshly cracked black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¾ cup diced Mezzetta roasted red peppers
½ cup halved Kalamata, Castelvetrano or your favorite olives
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp crushed red pepper
flaky sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the Ling into a 9×13” baking dish. Drizzle generously with olive oil and rub to coat both sides. Season with salt and black pepper. Arrange the thinly sliced garlic over top. Roast for 8 minutes.
2. Meanwhile add the diced roasted red peppers, halved olives, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, honey, and crushed red pepper to a small mixing bowl. Toss well to combine.
3. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Spoon the red pepper mixture over the fish. Transfer back to the oven and continue to roast for 2-3 more minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and the relish is heated.
4. Top with a pinch of flaky sea salt and any extra parsley leaves.
My daughter, Melissa, has always said the best thing we do together is laugh.
That premise was to be truly tested after I finally scheduled Total Knee Replacement surgery for mid-April. When I called to tell her, she replied, “ So I’ll come for two weeks to take care of you.”
Whoa… As she already knew, I don’t accept help graciously. But even this Mama Bear knows that Independent, Solo and Alone don’t cut it when someone else is doing the cutting. Instead, I thanked her. We were on.
This surgery revelation is not surprising. I had Knee Arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure, thirty-five years ago. It was a short-term fix. Eventually my left knee started talking back again. Like so many other people, I chose to ignore and endure it.
Two years ago I realized it was affecting my lifestyle. There were activities I avoided and mountain tops no longer within my reach. Last fall I cancelled my upcoming winter trip to France. Paris is a walkable city but not if you can’t walk. That same day I made an appointment with a surgeon relatively new to Aspen. His assistant said to stop by later that same afternoon. I liked and trusted the doctor who seemed to like and understand me. Together we nailed down a surgery date six months hence.
Before leaving Aspen for the winter, I stopped by the hospital to be measured by a machine affectionately called “the doughnut.” For the new knee, my doctor, Jared Lee, the Medical Director of Aspen’s Steadman Clinic uses Conformis, a company which applies a CT scan to design a customized knee replacement to my size and shape. This was going to happen.
Fast forward to surgery time. Melissa arrived two days before my April 19th surgery and immediately turned my condo upside down. She and The Gant’s housekeeping staff rolled up my oriental rugs, moved furniture and brought in piles of the sheets, towels and pillows I needed for a sterile environment. She picked up a walker, crutches, cane, etc., from a recent veteran of replacement surgery who gifted us with her largesse. As for me, think ‘deer caught in headlights.’
Unlike most patients, I was not interested in knowing about the intricacies of my upcoming surgery. To my mind, that was the doctor’s responsibility. Because Melissa’s business evolved around providing care and healing, that was her lane. As for me, I would commit to months of post-op rehabilitation without complaint.
What I’d mostly heard about this surgery is it’s painful. Melissa followed the agreed upon Pain Protocol religiously and managed to stay ahead of my pain. She was up 3-4 times each night to give me pills. Everyone has their own threshold for pain. I was lucky to need only one Oxi. Let’s just admit when my nerve block wore off, I was rethinking Life itself.
Admittedly, there were moments. In the hospital the night following surgery, I wanted to turn my phone off. Although my room was dark I spotted the bright red button on my phone and pushed it. 911 answered. It seems we had a conversation. (Actually I called them twice!) Finally a nurse stopped by, I told her my problem and she shut it off. By the next day the discussion that I was confused and probably should not be discharged yet had picked up steam. When the doctors came to check on me, my soft-spoken daughter stepped up. “Listen,” she said, “My mother is sharp as a tack. She is NOT confused. She does stuff like this all the time.”
I was discharged.
I began PT the day after surgery, three times a week with my therapist Nicole. I hit the jackpot with Nicole. She always coaxed more out of me than I thought I could give. On other days I did the 18 short exercises she had suggested by myself.
After coming home and in anticipation of my living alone, every morning Missy and I grabbed our coffee and spent an hour discussing what’s working, what wasn’t and what questions we had to ask. By the time she left last Saturday we both were confident I’d be fine. Before leaving she filled my larder, did all the household chores. and stuck cards/post-its everywhere reminding me to do or not do this/that. The oriental rugs are still rolled up, I can no longer remember what is shoved under beds, chairs which serve as exercise stations are still in place and food that was inaccessible is sitting on my counter. I am forbidden to climb on a foot stool — like, well, forever.
Following my two-week post-op with Dr. Lee this week, I’m off crutches, the walker and use a cane only if needed. I can drive. Nothing hurts. To my mind, Dr. Lee and his crew can now just stand back and accept my gratitude. As for Melissa who is back in California, Mom-Mission accomplished. Now it’s on me. This is the “do the work” part of the story. The spotlight’s on me and I’m here for it.
On this Mother’s Day, this Mother would like to pass on her roses to her daughter. For everything you did for me and to me and with me and even, in spite of me, thank you, Melissa. I still think the best thing we do together is laugh.
Or, as we say in English,“Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you.”
This week I pulled up my tried-and-true soda bread recipe, delicious in its own unforgettable way. I always wonder why I bake it only once a year. It’s especially necessary this March 17th because it’s routine, a habit and l wander through years of soda-bread memories while baking it.
Truthfully, my routine is out-of-wack, a bubble or two off right now. Your’s too? Still, I wake up early. Snatching that hour or so of solitude is a gift to myself each day. Flip on CNN, put on mute and read the crawl (news ticker) to check if President Zelenskyy is alive and Kiev, still standing.
Pour coffee, power up the computer to watch Chef José Andrés’ morning video from the war zone. Since 24 February, his World Central Kitchen has served over 1 million meals to refugees crossing the border into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia. The group is also working with over 110 suppliers in 58 cities to provide hot meals and deliver bulk food product— including produce and dry goods—to refugee centers.
Then I take some deep breaths and get on with it which, today, is packing and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
I read an article this week about Jenn Drummond, a 41-year old Utah woman who thrives, like me, on her solitude while also claiming it’s a balancing act. “Solitude is happening for me,” she said. “Loneliness is happening to me. That little shift makes the biggest difference.”
This week-end I’ve decided to go home, two weeks earlier than scheduled. For the past eight years I’ve loved every moment of my gypsy winters. I also know there are more adventures in my future. But most importantly, I’ve always known I have choices and can go home. Home, it is.
Please pray, dear Readers, for all the people in this world who don’t have choices.
Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread from Sweet Paul Magazine by Staffer Paul Vitale
3 cups Flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) of cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup Sugar
1 to 1 and 1/2 Cups of Golden Raisins (your discretion)
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 1/2 cup Buttermilk, shake well before using
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
3. Mix cold butter into dry mixture by hand until clumps disappear.
4. Slowly add in buttermilk that’s been shaken until you can form one big clump of dough.
5. Toss the raisins into the clump of dough and knead into the dough.
6. Place in 8 or 9 inch round, springform or cast-iron pan that is been coated with butter and flour OR form into freestanding round loaf which you put on parchment paper to bake.
7. Don’t forget to slash a 2-inch X with a serrated knife into the dough to either 1) ward off the devil; 2) bless the bread; or 3) let heat penetrate into the thickest part of the bread. Your choice.
8. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it should have a hollow sound.
9. Remove from oven and place on rack and drape with damp cloth until cool. Slice and enjoy with Irish butter!
Few of us can ignore or not be affected by the news coming out of Ukraine right now. Dark moments like these challenge us to remember once again who we are and what we can endure and refuse to tolerate.
Last Sunday, however, I needed to shelve those loftier considerations of ‘what I could endure.’ I wasn’t even enduring the weekend. My jangled nerves weren’t responding to “Just Breathe.” Although I could locate Ukraine on a map, I didn’t know it shared borders with seven other countries. If called to perform, among other things, I can now name all those bordering countries and their capital cities.
Which brings me to borscht. A female store owner in Kyiv recently said to CNN, “I’m not scared anymore. I know Ukraine will win. The two things a Ukrainian woman needs to know is how to make borscht and Molotovs!”
Ukranians consider this beet soup, with its 30 different varieties, to be their national dish. It is a hearty vegetable soup made out of beets, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips onions, garlic, dill and may include meat or fish. Food is part of Ukraine’s culture and identity. Every babulya (grandmother) has her favorite version.
I’d never made or even tasted borscht. Last Sunday that became my project. Fun fact. To even grasp what I was creating, I first purchased a jar of Manischewitz Borscht for tasting purposes! After scanning the internet for various recipes, I settled on Natasha Kravchuk’s meatless version (recipe below). Another fun fact. Starting your meal with a hearty vegetable soup like borscht is a fantastic way to lose weight! You end up eating 15% fewer calories over the course of a meal.
WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN
In 2017 when Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, killing 2,975 people, the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years. World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters and led by the celebrated Chef José Andrés, was first on the scene. Since Adriana Angelet, a member of our French Fridays with Dorie virtual cooking group, was Puerto Rican and dealing with the devastation, we “Doristas” decided to contribute money to WCK in her name.
Since that time as Chef Andrés has expanded his impressive food relief effort throughout the world, I’ve contributed monthly to WCK, making it a recurring donation. He is a phenom. In time, I predict he will win the Nobel Peace Prize. When Russia invaded Ukraine, his team quickly organized to feed what is now almost 1 M refugees. Currently, WCK meals are being distributed in five Ukrainian cities and on the Polish, Romanian, and Moldovian borders. Learn more about wck.org here.
CLASSIC UKRAINIAN BORSCHT (Beet Soup) by Natasha Kravchuk of NatashasKitchen.com
4 medium beets, peeled and grated, 2 cups ( I used refrigerated and vacuum-packed beets for this recipe.) 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided 4 cups chicken broth, add water as needed 2 medium/large Yukon potatoes, peeled and sliced into bite-sized pieces 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, trimmed and finely chopped 1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped, optional 1 medium onion, finely chopped 3 Tbsp ketchup or 3 Tbsp tomato sauce
1 can white cannelini beans with their juice or shredded cabbage 2 bay leaves 2Tbsp white vinegar, or to taste 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground 1 large garlic clove, pressed 3 Tbsp chopped dill
Peel, grate and/or slice all vegetables (keeping sliced potatoes in cold water to prevent browning until ready to use then drain). I used refrigerated and vacuum-packed beets for this recipe.
Heat a large soup pot (5 1/2 Qt or larger) over medium/high heat and add 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add grated beets and sauté 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until beets are softened.
Add 4 cups broth. Add sliced potatoes and sliced carrots. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. If more broth is needed, add 1-2 cups of water.
While potatoes are cooking, place a large skillet over medium/high heat and add 1 Tbsp oil. Add chopped onion, celery and bell pepper. Sauté stirring occasionally until softened and lightly golden (7-8 minutes).
Add 3 Tbsp Ketchup and stir fry 30 seconds then transfer to the soup pot to continue cooking with the potatoes.
When potatoes and carrots reach desired softness, add 1 can of beans with their juice, 2 bay leaves, 2-3 Tbsp white vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 pressed garlic clove, and 3 Tbsp chopped dill. Simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes and add more salt and vinegar to taste.
Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top.
CELEBRATING 70 YEARS of FRIENDSHIP
My long-time Manchester, Iowa friend, Cindy, drove from Colorado Springs to have lunch with me at Boulder’s St. Julien Hotel. Before we sat down, Cindy ordered champagne. We were off. Our cute U of Colorado waitress was totally into celebrating 70 years of anything! The hostess made it clear it was “our” table. By the time we left, 2 1/2 hours later, most of the customers at the surrounding tables were celebrating as well. It truly was joyful.