If you were raised in a small Iowa farm town, you’re probably not too bothered by garter snakes. When two friends who have community garden plots gave me carte blanche to their rhubarb patches, the little guy who slithered under the leaves as I was bending over to pull some rhubarb stalks didn’t prevent me from taking my share. For the next day or two we reached an accommodation. He slithered. I pulled.
We always called rhubarb an “alley plant.” In the Midwest, at least, that’s where it thrived. While my Mom’s rhubarb sauce was delicious, her crisp mighty tasty, it was her rhubarb pie crowned with a mile-high meringue topping that was to-die-for. What I wouldn’t give for just one more sliver.
Rhubarb, which is a vegetable, is an acquired taste. You’re either Yes or No. Wishy Washy is not a category. Besides making sauce this week I baked David Lebovitz’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette and Andrea Mohr’s (The Kitchen Lioness) unique Rhubarb-Ginger Topping. She plops the mixture on homemade hummus, adds a splash of high-quality olive oil, a bit of freshly ground black pepper, some flaky salt and makes a tasty statement. These basic recipes (below) are full of possibilities, just build on their ideas.
FOR the LOVE of RHUBARB – Astronaut John Glenn’s father, known as Hershel, was mostly deaf from injuries in WW I. To help out at home, every summer young Glenn sold rhubarb from the family garden throughout his Ohio home town. (story from Bill Dedman)
STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB GALETTE by David Lebovitz
Use your favorite pastry/galette dough or purchase a pre-made pie pastry at the store. (If available, purchase the all-butter pastry product.)
3 Cups diced rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 pieces.
2 Cups of Strawberries, hulled and quartered
Zest of One Lemon
2/3 Cup of Sugar & 1 TBS Cornstarch
1. Put the rhubarb and strawberries in a medium bowl with the lemon zest.
Sprinkle the sugar and corn starch on top. Do not mix the ingredients together. If you do, theyʼll start to juice and may be overly juicy by the time youʼre ready to use them. (Use this process with any fruit/galette combo.)
2. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 14-inch circle and place it on the baking sheet. (At this point you can sprinkle 11/2 TBS of almond flour, cracker or bread crumbs, crumbled amaretti cookies or just a bit of flour on the tart dough to soak up any extra juices that may come out of the fruit when it’s baking. I crushed two graham crackers. Worked perfectly.)
4. Mix the fruit together with the sugar and corn starch and place the fruit into the center of the galette dough. Spread it with your hands, leaving 3-inches of space between the fruit and the edge of the dough.
6. Fold the edges of the dough up and over the fruit filling. Brush the crust liberally with melted butter and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.
7. Bake the tart until the filling is cooked and bubbling and the crust is golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully slide the tart off the baking sheet onto a cooling rack.
SERVING: Serve the tart on its own or with Vanilla Ice Cream, White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream, Cinnamon Ice Cream, or a dollop of crème fraîche. The baked tart is best the same day but can be stored at room temperature for up to two days.
RHUBARB-GINGER TOPPING by Andrea Mohr, The Kitchen Lioness
2-3 stalks red rhubarb, (1 Cup)
6 slices fresh ginger (washed, no need to peel)
extra virgin olive oil
salt (to taste)
1. Cut the washed stalk into slices. Using low heat, cook the slices in a pan with olive oil, sliced fresh ginger and a bit of salt just till soft. That will only take a few minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside to cool. Once the topping has cooled, remove the sliced ginger
2. After placing your hummus in its serving bowl, put the rhubarb mixture on top.
3. If you happen to have fresh pomegranate seeds, add a few to the rhubarb topping. With a splash of high-quality olive oil, a bit of freshly ground black pepper and some flaky salt. You’re done.
JUNE GRADUATION/500 DAYS OF QUARANTINE-DONE
In mid-June Clara graduated from Bishop Union High School in California. Despite being vaccinated and owning my personal Hazmat suit, graduation was a three-day closed affair with the class divided into thirds. Since Clara was the Valedictorian this year, she gave her speech three times! I was watching on television so that was fine with me. She leaves in mid-July to attend Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, to begin an accelerated four-year program resulting in a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Engineering Management. Emma, an incoming junior at Point Loma Nazarene University, returned to San Diego last week (after 500 days of quarantine, she points out) where she has a summer job with the university. She is majoring in both Spanish and Child and Adolescent Development. As for what’s ahead with me, I think I might just put up my feet, sit back and watch!
This past weekend, using cheese selected by invited guests, I put together a cheese board for a good friend’s son’s engagement party.
“If we don’t have a place for nature in our heart, how can we expect nature to have a place for us.” ― Abhijit Naskar.
With its 300 days of sunshine, Colorado is a great place to get right with Mother Nature. One word for Springtime in the Rockies? Glorious. This week I’m sharing that glory with you. You’ll also find something glorious about my Tomato Tart with Mustard, a French classic. Adding ricotta makes for a milder mustard aftertaste. I’ve already baked three of these babies. Your turn.
Realizing I’m an amateur photographer just trying my best, here’s my one that got away story. When I began taking nature photos, a professional told me to ‘never let a photograph get in front of the experience.’ Last week I joined two Forest Conservancy colleagues to fill in at the Maroon Bells while the USFS Rangers attended an all-day training session. As we first walked by Maroon Lake, a beautiful bald eagle, backlit by the magnificent Bells, flew out of the nearby trees and soared over the lake. As he came closer – I had a shot – but decided instead on the experience.
TOMATO TART WITH MUSTARD and RICOTTA
Although this remarkable tart just begs for heirloom tomatoes, they are pricey and often not available. I used one large and 2 medium-sized tomatoes, adding cherry or grape tomatoes for filler. To avoid excess moisture from the watery tomatoes, either follow #3 in my Directions or sprinkle them generously with salt on both sides and lay them in a single layer on a cooling rack for 2 hours to release excess juices.
TOMATO TART with MUSTARD and RICOTTA by Dorie Greenspan, Everyday Dorie, The Way I Cook
Makes 6 Servings
One 9-91/2- inch tart shell made with Pâte Brisée, your favorite pastry recipe or favorite store-bought pastry crust, partially baked and cooled
2 tsp olive oil
3 cups packed finally shredded greens such as chard, kale, spinach or arugula (I used 3 cups of baby arugula and didn’t cut or shred it at all)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
About 11/2 pounds of tomatoes, 2-3 large, 3-4 medium or a mix of large, medium and cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup of whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg yolk
3 large eggs
6 TBS heavy cream
3 TBS grainy mustard
Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 425 degrees. Place the partially baked tart shell on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone backing mat.
Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Toss in the greens, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until they wilt and soften, 1-2 minutes. Scrape them onto the pastry crust leaving any oil in the skillet.
Core the tomatoes, if necessary, and thinly slice. If using cherry or grape tomatoes, halve them. Lay the tomatoes out on a double layer of paper towels, cover with more paper towels and pat away the excess moisture.
Mix the ricotta with the egg yolk and season with salt and pepper. (This may be made ahead, covered and refrigerated for up to 6 hours.)
Whisk together the eggs, cream and mustard and season with salt and paper. (This may also be refrigerated up to 6 hours.) Pour onto the crust and spinach.
Add the tomatoes, arranging them attractively but evenly distributed. Don’t be afraid to let them overlap with each other. Be generous with the tomatoes. Finish by spooning dollops of the ricotta mixture on the top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until the filling is puffed and firm in the center. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let the tart cool for at least 15 minutes before serving or wait for it to come to room temperature, your choice.
I learned to ski in Aspen during the seventies. My first summer visit was with my husband Michael in 1987. I’d never hiked before. Soon after arriving we drove to the Maroon Bells to hike the Crater Lake trail. It’s a rocky 3.4 mile round trip at an altitude from 7,050 to 8,060 feet. I was wearing tennis shoes.
At mile marker 1/2 mile, dear Readers, I was 100% positive of being near death, leaving my girls motherless. I whined, complained and used very bad words. Michael being Michael agreed and empathized with everything I said but kept on hiking! It was an unpleasant weekend.
On our next trip, equipped with proper gear and having walked up every hill in Des Moines (our hometown), I met the mountain. Call me a “Rock Star.” After moving to Aspen, I loved our hiking adventures. When Life itself got rocky, it was the mountains I’d turn to for solace. I still do.
Weather permitting, I am back on the trails doing what, because of the Pandemic, I could not do the summer prior. Many of you have asked what it is I really do? This Ranger thing. Here’s my story.
In the 1990’s Aspenite Joanne Lyon decided our Forest Service needed “helpers.” The culprit? Government cuts. She answered her call, inspiring three other locals to join her. After raiding the USFS’s storage closet to pull together second-hand uniforms, this ragtag group hit the trails. I was one of the second or third waves to join the group.
It was left to Judy Schramm, another volunteer, to formally organize us. In 2001 she spearheaded the Forest Conservancy’s emergence as a non-profit partner to the Forest Service. We were charged with promoting hiking safety and caring for the natural and cultural resources of the 2.3 million acre White River National Forest. We hired an Executive Director, Marcia Johnson. She’s our Smokey Bear.
Except for 8 years in Nevada, I’ve been on the trails every summer. To begin, we take a training course, receive First Aid/CPR instruction, shadow veteran volunteers and often participate in naturalist classes before becoming rangers. I set my own hiking calendar. Admittedly, my younger, hardier colleagues maintain a more rigorous schedule than I can.
Although I work with others hiking various trails, on most Saturday mornings you’ll find me before 7a.m., patrolling alone (my choice), the Crater Lake trail. It’s the staging area for small backpacking groups who hike the Four Pass Loop.
I check that each backpacking group has a bear canister, a container used as a physical barrier to protect food from wildlife. No canister. No trip. Hardcore backpackers monitor their own community. Safety matters. I’ve never had to turn anyone around.
Each hiking group must self-register and one hiker hangs that tag with destination/participant information on his pack. It’s free, takes 5 minutes to fill-out but hikers often forget. I carry extra tags, pencils, retrieve a copy for the USFS and remind them Moms like to know their whereabouts. That they understand!
For the next few hours it’s hiking the trail, answering questions, snapping pictures and encouraging first-timers. Most Saturdays I encounter 300-400 hikers. In high season it’s 1,000 hiker days. (I have a counter.) Besides people, I’ve met bears, moose and mountain goats. What I love most, however, is how in awe of the Bells our visitors are. Many have never been in the mountains. This may be the only vacation time they’ll have all year. My primary job, I’ve learned, is to help make it a safe and unforgettable one.
ARE YOU A CHILI LOVER?
Chili was on my mind all winter but for various reasons I never got it made. When Betsy, my food blogging friend of the past decade, sent me her cookbook “Fifty For My Fiftieth,” with 50 of her favorite recipes, this called my name. The quick, flavor-filled recipe is the brainchild of American chef and restaurateur Rick Bayless who is widely known for his PBS series Mexico: One Plate at a Time.
SPICY BLACK BEAN and SAUSAGE CHILI by Rick Bayless & adapted by Betsy Pollack-Benjamin
Makes 8 servings
1 Tbsp vegetable oil 1 large onion, chopped 1 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded and diced 8 oz. to 1 pound of cooked sausage (chicken-cilantro, andouille or smoked), thinly sliced (I substituted ground beef chuck) 3 cups of tomatillo sauce or use your favorite jarred salsa 8 oz. butternut squash, diced into 1/2-inch pieces ( I added cut-up roasted carrots because I had them available) 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained 2 cans (14 ounces each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
Pour the oil into a large, deep pan and warm over medium heat.
Add the onion and cook until slightly tender and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in green pepper and cook 1 minute.
Stir in sausage, squash, sauce or salsa, beans and tomatoes. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. (Substitute ground beef for sausage slices or leave out meat entirely.)
Serve in warmed bowls topped with cheese and other toppings of your choice of optional toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, chopped green onion, sour cream or yogurt and crumbled corn tortilla chips.
You know it’s time to return home when one of your Besties sends a photo of moose hanging out in her backyard. I would love to have seen those two gorgeous animals. Deb and her husband, Phil, are animal magnets with property that backs up to open spaces. When something special pays a visit, they often give me a call.
The caveat to this is don’t mess with a moose. The Shiras moose specie was first successfully re-introduced to Colorado in the late Sixties. Today it’s estimated there are 2,500 scattered throughout our state. While the moose munched on lilacs and relaxed in their yard for about two hours, my friends sheltered-in-place.
BOULDER, BRAVE BOULDER
Every winter I spend the holidays in California and Nevada and then visit Paris. Not this year. For the last five months I’ve waited out the Pandemic in Boulder. It was a safe and friendly choice with my being able to zip back to Aspen for vaccination shots.
Since March, following the King Soopers shooting causing 10 deaths, there’s been an inconsolable anguish hovering over this city that no amount of Boulder Strong signs can lessen. Even I’m still shaken. Healing is hard.
LIGHTS BRIGHTER, BRAKES OVERHAULED
So you might ask what I’ve been doing this winter? How I’ve spent my time. Now you know. Please take a few minutes to wander through and understand my stripped down, minimalist blog. Start at the Landing page and move on to Lights on Mary, Dig In and No Brakes. After ten years this blog needed new lipstick. Readers, I so appreciate you. Just know that.
FOCACCIA – RIDICULOUSLY EASY
Before I leave for the High County this week I wanted to bake bread in an altitude-friendlier kitchen. I’ve followed Chris and Scott Scheuer’s Cafe Sucre and Farine since I began blogging. Chris’ delicious recipes have never failed me. She claimed this Focaccia was Ridiculously Easy. I made it. I’m still a believer.
RIDICULOUSLY EASY FOCACCIA BREAD adapted from The Cafe Sucre Farine by Chris Scheuer
4 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons kosher salt 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet) 2 cups warm tap water 1 teaspoon soft butter for greasing pan 4 tablespoons olive oil divided Toppings – I used Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend and a blend of Roasted Garlic, Rosemary and Sea Salt Flaky Sea Salt (I like Maldon)
1 In a medium-large bowl, combine flour, salt, and instant yeast. Stir well. Add the warm water. Using a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, mix until all of the flour is well incorporated (there should be no small pockets of flour.) Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.
2. Lightly butter two 9-inch cake pans. Line pans with parchment paper. Pour one tablespoon of olive oil into the center of each pan. Divide dough in half with a large spoon or rubber spatula and place one piece of dough in each pan, turning to coat with oil. Tuck edges of dough underneath to form a rough ball.
3. Cover each pan tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough balls to rest for 2 hours (it may take as long as 3 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen). The dough should cover most of the pan.
4. Preheat oven to 450˚F with a rack positioned in the center of the oven.Drizzle another tablespoon of oil over each round of dough. With oiled fingers, using both hands, press straight down and create deep dimples that go all the way through the dough (you’ll actually be making deep holes.) If necessary, gently stretch the dough as you dimple to allow the dough to fill the pan.
5. Sprinkle tops with seasoning of your choice and flaky sea salt.
6. Transfer the pans to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 425˚F. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, until the tops are golden and the undersides are crisp. Remove pans from the oven. With a metal spatula remove bread rounds from the pans and transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
7. Serve warm or allow to cool completely then store in a zippered bag. To freeze, allow bread to cool completely, then transfer to a ziplock bag and freeze. Thaw and enjoy at room temperature or warm for 10 minutes in a 350˚F oven.
TIP: 1. When baking in high altitude I always use King Arthur’s High Altitude Flour or Hungarian High Altitude Flour. 2. The most difficult part of the recipe for me was the hole poking. Be sure your fingers are well-oiled and poke your fingers straight down into the dough.
There are so many reasons not to diet nor to even try in March. It’s easy for me to justify almost anything but dieting when we’re 13 months into the Pandemic? No. Say it loudly. No. This post is about celebrating what’s always sweet and special about March.
In March I’m talking about Girl Scout Cookie Sale Month; International Women’s Day (3/8); National Pi Day (3/12); St. Patrick’s Day (3/17); French Language (3/20) & French Bread Days (3/21); National Cocktail Day ( 3/24) followed by Passover (3/27).
#BE PREPARED. NEVER PASS A BOX OF THIN MINTS (March)
There are 1.7 million Girl Scouts in America who want to sell you a box of cookies. A Brownie pin still lives in my jewelry box and my girls were also Scouts. I was often a leader. Every March the cookie box inventory hung out in my garage until depletion! That month was worth 5 pounds. I’ve never passed a Thin Mints box that didn’t call my name.
#CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE. #GENERATION EQUALITY. IWD2021 (3/8)
Although IWD is an international celebration, America has been late to the party. Happily more American women are now joining our worldwide sisterhood to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. This year’s theme was “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”
I always try to honor the Day in some manner. In 2011, while still living in Henderson (Nevada), I invited my talented and amazing besties for an IWD dinner party. In Boulder this year I made a delicious Blood Orange Cake filled with Sea Salt Roasted Nuts.* By adding club soda to Lillet Blanc, tossing in an orange twist and filling a rocks glass with ice, I turned an apéritif into a dessert cocktail. (*Hey Gant gang, There’s no one to taste test my food. Will be so thrilled to be home and cook for you.)
IF IT AIN’T BROGUE, DON’T FIX IT (3/17)
I’ve not a smidgen of blood – red cells, white cells, platelets, or plasma – that runs Irish. My Mom’s people were Welch coal miners. Everyday they’d go down into the mines, their lunch buckets filled with Cornish pasties. They are savory pocket-shaped and baked shortcrust pastry filled with beef, potatoes, Swedes (rutabagas) and onions. Every Christmas Eve our family would feast to their memory with pasty, raspberry sherbet, fruit salad and Saffron biscuits.
But I digress. Next Wednesday is St. Patrick’s Day, a time for we Irish wannabes to make merry and be spontaneously rambunctious. (Is that even possible this year?) Every March 17th, no matter where I’ve landed for the winter, I try to bake Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread, a recipe I found in Sweet Paul’s magazine years ago. I’m always reminded how plain and authentic this bread tastes. While best on the day it’s made, toast it for Day 2 and 3’s breakfast.
Don’t forget to slash the top, cutting it about a half-inch deep to make a cross pattern. That slash will either ward off the devil, bless the bread or let heat penetrate into the thickest part of the bread. Since I forgot the almighty slash this year, if the devil comes knocking at my door, I’ll know Why.
So, my friends, that about covers March. I’m passing National Pi Day festivities over to my Accountant friend and numbers guru, Donna Grauer. While I may know Pie, she’s an expert on Pi. Don’t even get her started on Prime Numbers. For me, every day is french language day. After more years of french studies than I will admit, I’m still waiting for the ‘breakthrough.” I’ll pair French bread with Dorie’s Slow-Cooker Brisket with Carrots and Sweet Potatoes for Passover on March 27th. And, there goes March!
“MARCH 4th, THE ONLY DAY THAT IS ALSO A SENTENCE.” J.Green
MRS. FRINGS’ IRISH SODA BREAD from Sweet Paul magazine by Staffer Paul Vitale
3-4 cups all-purpose flour, dough should be sticky 1 stick of butter (8 TBS) at room temperature 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 lb. raisins 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp.baking soda 1 tsp. salt 1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Mix butter into dry mixture by hand until clumps disappear.
Slowly add in the buttermilk by hand until you can form one big clump of dough.
Place in 8 or 9 inch round, springform or cast iron pan that’s been coated with butter and flour.
Bake until deep golden brown at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes, checking at the 40 minute mark. (My soda bread took 45 minutes.)
Remove from oven, place on rack and drape with damp cloth until cool.
Slice and enjoy with Orange Marmalade (my fave) or Irish butter!
Lillet French Aperitif with an Orange Twist, a favorite of Liz Berg, That Skinny Chick Can Bake Blog
4 ounces Lillet Blanc 4 ounces club soda Orange twist
Fill rocks glass with ice. Add Lillet Blanc and then club soda. Stir to mix