Monday, May 31, 2010


Is there anything better than Mom's apple pie? Not much.
Dad agreed and requested it for his birthday dinner.

For anyone new around here, here's what I try to do with my Positively Monday posts. Anyone is welcome to join in, and since the rules are: there are no rules, if I miss a Monday, well, that's just how the blogging rolls.

Hoping everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend. Happy Monday!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


To accompany our Vista Grand bison burgers after last Sunday's Slow Food Cincinnati tour of the farm, we were invited to contribute a side dish. Lately I've happened onto several mentions of new - to me - ways of preparing chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), including roasting and pan-frying them, and I wanted to try a new technique and incorporate them into the salad I had in mind.

The Pan-fried Chickpea Salad recipe from the ever-inspiring Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks was one of my jumping-off points for this dish. And I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but I've lost track of another recipe where the blogger baked rinsed and well-dried canned chickpeas at high heat, the method I employed due to time constraints. I put mine into the oven on a foil-lined sheet tray at about 400 degrees with a tad of oil and some thyme and salt for 5-10 minutes, which definitely gave the beans more flavor. Next time I'd start with dried chickpeas and, as Heidi suggests, add leeks while pan-frying the cooked beans, plus garlic and lemon zest at the last minute, for even more flavor. While I decided to roast mine the night before since I needed to be at Vista Grand by 11:00 a.m., the texture would no doubt be better and crisper if, rather than refrigerating them ahead, you do as Heidi suggests and simply let the fried or roasted chickpeas cool to room temperature for serving.

Meanwhile, I blanched some asparagus, shocked it in cold water, and dried it on paper towel.
I also sliced some red, yellow, and orange pepper.
Tossed in some sliced green onions, and ended up with this.
For a dressing, I liked Heidi's yogurt-curry combo. But when I discovered I didn't have yogurt on hand as I'd thought, I went with an old stand-by I originally found in The Moosewood Cookbook that I've adapted to fit many recipes: sour cream, a bit of mayo, and a little lemon (or other citrus) juice. Plus some "sweet curry" powder a dear friend brought me from Morroco. Being a blend of numerous herbs and spices, "curry powders" are by no means all created equal. This particular sweet one, which is complex and not straightforwardly sweet, is one of my favorites. Curry can add such an interesting punch to a completely non-Asian dish, especially when used sparingly. One of my tablemates at the picnic asked me about the dressing, sensing something familiar about the flavor but not quite able to put her finger on it. When I told her I'd used curry, she understood right away.
I think pearl couscous would be another great addition to this salad. I didn't have any on hand, so I added some wild rice to my leftovers.

I promised you some announcements, and the first is that dear blogger friend La Diva Cucina, who won the May Culinary Smackdown with her enticing array of Caribbean food and drink, has (per her role as most-recent winner) announced the theme for the June throwdown: Picnics!!! I had such fun participating in the lobster smackdown in April. Now that my travel-crazy May will be over after another trip to Knoxville over Memorial Day, I am in for this next competition. What a great seasonal, endlessly variable theme, accessible to cooks of all dietary persuasions and inclinations! Full details here. There are creative culinary minds from all over the U.S. and beyond who've participated in the past, so it's a fun way to connect with other bloggers, get some great ideas, and spur yourself to cook up something new.

I'm excited to have found these folks and wanted to share their upcoming plans from their newsletter:
  • Sunday, June 13th: Second Sunday in OTR Spend the afternoon in one of Cincinnati's most eclectic neighborhoods for fun, music, shopping, art, and of course, food!  This fun event features live music at the beer garden at Neon's Unplugged, a Celebrity Chef Demo at 2:30, and a Street Fair on Main.  Stop by the Slow Food booth on Main St. to learn more, get involved, and sample some local fare.  June's theme is "Dog Days," so don't forget to bring your four-legged friends! Visit the Second Sunday website for all the details.
  • Thursday, June 17th: Fabulous Fermenting 101 Want to learn how to ferment your own food?  Join us for a hands-on learning experience at Turner Farm with Jennifer and Jordan from Fab Ferments to learn about the health benefits and culture of lacto-fermented vegetables.  This is a beginners hands-on workshop teaching the basic fundamentals you will need to make your own raw cultured veggies! Everyone will go home with three quart jars of fermented food.  Jars will be provided, but please bring a harvest basket, cutting board, knives and a pounding instrument.  Space is limited so reserve your spot by paying the class fee now!  Cost is $30.
  • Saturday, July 17th: Campbell County Backroads Farm Tour Slow Food Cincinnati will join the Campbell County Farmland Work Group for the Backroads Farm Tour Saturday, July 17th from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.  This self-guided driving tour of 17 farms will illustrate the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, honey, beef, wines, and horse farms that give Campbell County its special character.  meet local farmers and experience farm life at its best.  Visit their website in June for a map and full schedule.  Admission is free.
  • Saturday, August 28th: Farmers' Fair Come down to the Roebling Entertainment District in Covington for this all-day celebration of local food!  The event will feature a Farmers' Market from 10-4, as well as food and wine tastings from local chefs and vineyards, cooking demonstrations, educational activities for the whole family, and featured speaker Ed Begley, Jr. Proceeds benefit Slow Food Cincinnati, as well as CORV (Central Ohio River Valley) Local Food Guide, the Northern Kentucky Chapters of the Future Farmers of America, and the Ohio Valley Foodshed Project.  Please visit the Farmers' Fair website for the most up-to-date information or to volunteer for this wonderful event.  Admission is Free.
  • Sunday, September 12th: Cooking Class and Dinner at Granny's Garden Did you know we have the largest school garden program in the Midwest here in Cincinnati?  Granny's Garden School serves all of Loveland's K-4th grader's, but when school's out, Slow Food gets to play!  Join us for a cooking class to learn new techniques and recipes for seasonal ingredients you may not be used to preparing.  After the class, we'll enjoy the fruits of our labor, of course!  Details are still being ironed out, but we'll be sure to keep you posted.
But Wait, There's More! Keep an eye out for more info on these other exciting events later in the summer.
  • Sustainable Sunday Join Park+Vine, Slow Food Cincinnati, and the Miami chapter of the Sierra Club for our next Sustainable Sunday.  We'll meet at 11 a.m. at Park+Vine, stop by Coffee Emporium for a fuel-up, then head out on a leisurely stroll along the river to Maribelle's for lunch. We'll plan to be back at P+V around 2 p.m. or so.  Check our blog or facebook page, or P+V's facebook page or twitter for final details and to learn how to RSVP.
  • Berry Picking Spend a day with your Slow Food friends picking fresh, delicious berries.  Because berries are so dependent on the weather, this event will likely be short notice, but open to all.  We'll send out an email and update our blog to let you know when and where to meet us!
  • Coffee Shop Talks Let's sit down with a cup of coffee and a local producer or grower to get to know more about what makes their business Slow.  Please let us know who you'd like to see featured in these talks.
  • Member Meeting at Brylan's Coffee Cafe All registered Slow Food Cincinnati members are invited to join us for our membership meeting, which will be held sometime in July at the lovely Brylan's Coffee Cafe in Newtown, where we will discuss the future direction of our chapter. 
Have a happy, safe, and relaxing weekend. I hope it will be seasoned with good food and loved ones to share a table with, wherever that might be.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Once upon a time, a long time ago, I had the most memorable steak of my life. My Colorado buddy Derf had been gifted with a thick buffalo steak from a Native American friend who had hunted the animal on a reservation in Wyoming, and Derf had kept that lovely cut in his freezer until my visit. We thawed and marinated it (a good way to impart flavor to game meat that is lean and therefore lacking the flavor that fat contributes), then got caught up in other things and didn't grill it until dinner a couple of nights later. The marinade really had a chance to infuse the steak, and Derf did a fine job of keeping it to mid rare on the grill. Not a hunter himself, Derf had been gifted with plenty of game over the years from his hunter friends in the mountains, and he taught me that with lean game animals like deer, elk, and buffalo, you cook them either hot and fast or low and slow (otherwise, the meat turns dry).

With the memory of that steak still haunting me to this day, when I happened onto info that Slow Food Cincinnati was sponsoring a tour of local Vista Grand bison ranch plus a cookout, I signed up immediately. (That long-remembered steak was way before the digital-camera era, so I borrowed the above pics from Vista Grand's website.) I was thrilled when I'd learned several years ago from a local newspaper article that someone was actually raising buffalo so close by, and I've enjoyed Vista Grand's products in the past (although I've never found anything of theirs other than ground bison available for purchase). I was also delighted to learn Cincinnati has its own Slow Food chapter, which seems to be gaining momentum (more info here and here, and a promised new website here).

Last Sunday morning, I headed out to see the ranch for myself, just a couple of miles up 132 from Rt. 50, which I've traveled the last too-many-to-count-them years to visit Cindie and Odie. A tad tricky to find (mapquest thinks the address posted on their website is on the opposite side of the road), but a wide swath of pastoral heaven when you get there.
The mamas and babies had come up the hills so our group could see them. Since I was a bit late, I heard owner Cindy explain later that the "call" to the buffalo had been the sound the farm version of a golf cart vehicle her husband set out on:  "The Kubota means food."

Owners Cindy and David were casual, welcoming, and happy to answer questions. They make their buffalo-raising gig sound attractively low-maintenance, although my impression is they are smart, pragmatic people who've done a lot of research, and have a lot of irons in thefire. When asked whether she'd grown up on a farm, Cindy said, "No! I'm from New Jersey."
In the '90s when they bought the acreage, it was not with a predetermined intention of becoming bison farmers. Much of the story about how they came to raise buffalo seems to stem from busy lives and a desire for low maintenance - they repeatedly mentioned that buffalo take care of themselves much more than other livestock. At the time, Cindy was finishing her doctorate in nutrition and David was traveling a lot for business. They both continue to have other "day" jobs and activities, and were frank about the financial pitfalls and uncertainties of farming. Nonetheless, they are enthusiastic about what they do and the lifestyle it affords them..Among her many activities, Cindy is as 4-H advisor (you can view proud video on their website of their daughter at county fairs). After listening to Cindy talk, I just might have to check out a county fair this summer.

I encourage you to click on this video for better looks at the awesome vistas on their ranch than I was able to catch in the mid-day sun, and Cindy and David's story about Vista Grand in their own words.

Meanwhile, a sister- and brother-in-law who are a designer and architect have apparently contributed to the new main and guest houses on the property, and some scrumptious looking landscaping. A few more pics from me.

I'm not given to deifyed descriptions. But this was some of the most lovely land I've ever seen. Thanks so much for sharing your slice of the world with us, Cindy and David. I'm also happy to connect with the Slow Food Cincy group, especially after seeing the newsletter about your upcoming events! Back later with something resembling a recipe for the chickpea-asparagus-curry salad I contributed to the Slow Food cookout following our tour at Vista Grand.

Monday, May 24, 2010


A quick pic of the dish I made for this weekend's Slow Food Cincinnati tour of Vista Grand Bison Ranch followed by cook-out at Woodland Mound Park. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday! I'll be back with more later this week. Meanwhile, get ye out and take ye advantage of prime picnicking weather!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I knew I was where I belonged for the weekend when I drove up to the cabin and found this guy ready to greet me.
Just a few miles off I-71 north of Columbus, I was back at Mohican State Park, and with friends. Settling on "fiesta" as our weekend theme, Tricia and Amy had added colorful touches to our nondescript '50s-era cabin, outside and in. Chili pepper lights on the back porch overlooking the stream, cacti and sombrero cut-outs on the living room walls, an inflatable burro rider we dubbed Pepe; even the bathroom had a little fiesta bling. There were appropriately themed serving dishes, and maraca keychain party favors for all.
Becky had arrived a little ahead of me, and we were both glad to be off the highway. All of us were ready to celebrate, as well as to relax.
Living in different parts of the state, the four of us rendezvous several times a year, but in May we honor the woman who brought us all together, and who died suddenly four years ago. Della loved her birthday, always turning it into a party or getaway of some sort, and we have continued that tradition. She was an assistant park ranger for the State of Ohio, so it is only fitting that each year we celebrate her birthday at one of the Ohio state parks.
Mohican is one of our favorites because of the stream just a few footsteps behind the cabins. The fire ring between the screened back porch and the stream . . .
was perfect for grilling brats and Italian sausages our first night, and staying up late, catching up, reminiscing . . . and chasing away racoons who dared to intrude.

What a lovely spot for breakfast.
My "fiesta" strata adaptation worked out just fine Saturday morning. Green chiles, a can of green chili, sauteed onions and bell peppers, salsa, Monterey Jack, and cotijo cheese in addition to the usual bread, eggs, and milk/cream do indeed a tasty breakfast casserole make.
I usually make strata just the night before, pulling it out of the fridge and baking for about an hour in the morning. But there was no noticeable problem assembling the whole thing two nights in advance. It puffed up gorgeously, despite my lack of photographic evidence. Gotta love a dish that 1) is a reliable make-ahead, 2) takes well to seemingly endless variation, and 3) is just about impossible to mess up.

Fortified by fresh air and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to embark on a new adventure - boating on the Clear Fork Reservoir. Sandwiches were made. Sunscreen, towels, and beverages were assembled. The sky was blue and our spirits were running high with anticipation. But we ran into a glitch. Amy's keys were nowhere to be found . . . except, by process of elimination, probably locked in her car.

Becky flagged down a park worker, who offered us a slim jim, which Amy and Trish took turns sliding down along the window, attempting to catch and free the lock.
When that proved unsuccessful, we tracked down a ranger with another approach: He used wedges to open a crack around the window, then inserted a pump-up air bladder to create enough space to thread a metal rod to get at the lock from inside the car instead of inside the door.
Interesting factoid: He told us the park has generally given up on the use of slim jims due to the risk of damaging side air-bags. At any rate, the kindly ranger was finally able to unlock Amy's car, and we breathed a serious sigh of relief. Hey, these little set-backs are the stuff of reminiscences to come.

Undeterred by our later-than-anticipated start, we were determined to get to the lake that afternoon. On our last trip to Mohican, we'd discovered a boat rental shop at Clear Fork Lake, on the other side of I-71. We hauled our cooler and other gear down to our rented pontoon boat, and were off.

Becky and Amy took turns piloting our vessel, and it seemed like everytime I tried to take a pic of Trish, she was photographing too.
With an 8-mile-per-hour speed limit on the lake, we could putt around the lake at our leisure, admiring an equally slow-moving sailboat . . .
. . . the waterfowl that seemed to land on every buoy . . .
. . . even a surprise patch of dogwood along the shore.
Is there anything better than an afternoon on the water? Not much, I say. Despite an ill-timed potty break back at the marina when boats were lined up to exit at the conclusion of a fishing tournament we knew nothing about, and a tricky exit of our own when we discovered another boat occupying our slip, it was a fine day. I even managed to capture these photos of a blue heron and a duck family as we debated how and where to tie off.
On our way back to the cabin, we took a little detour to Gatton Rocks, where we encountered a group of prom-goers. I don't think they were quite sure what to make of our motley tie-dyed crew while they were in finery. But when we offered to take photos of them, they warmed. All the photos we took of them were on their cameras. But after they left, I snapped this.

We took turns with meals (alas, I didn't capture them all on film, but I didn't want to be too annoying with the camera, and sometimes I was just so hungry I forgot about it). Becky's Saturday night taco bar included chunks of avocado, a fragrant bowl of cilantro, and taco meat a la Becky - deer burger cooked with the salsa she cans every year from veggies she grows herself. Nothing better - her salsa is summertime caught in a jar!

Our girl Della was quite a collector. Besides collecting friends, she collected shot glasses and souvenir spoons. They cover a lot of geography. Some she bought herself during her travels; others reached her through friends and friends' families traveling to places she unfortunately would never see.

Della's husband gave them all to us, and four years later, we are still divvying up those shot glasses. The tradition we've evolved is that we each select several shot glasses and, going around in a circle, tell a "Della story" about where it's from. The first year, story-telling was pretty rough - until Trish, who hadn't know Della as long as the rest of us, busted out a tale to accompany a Nevada shot glass about her adventures with Della when they were both showgirls in Las Vegas (at least, that's how I remember it). Conjured up from thin air, and convincingly told, it was just the note of levity we needed. Now our shot-glass stories are all fabrications, and the best whopper this year was Amy's, about when she and Della were tagging manatees in Florida. Wish I could remember all the details, but they're a little fuzzy after that bottle of Amatulla we polished off.

Our usual weekend getaways are Friday and Saturday night stays, which, when we stay at the parks, translates into a downer on Sunday mornings, as we have to de-decorate, load all our crap back into our cars, and vacate by 11:00 a.m. This is especially unwelcome after Shot Glass Night. (Fortunately, the park staff are forgiving; I don't think we've ever made it out on time.) This year, we treated ourselves to an extra day, so we had all day Sunday!

While more active folks kayaked along the stream behind our cabin . . .
. . . we could chillax, listening to the water and observing the wildlife.
Except for Becky, who was busy whipping up our second al fresco breakfast feast.
Waffles and blueberries and maple syrup, plus sausage and cilantro- and avocado-laced eggs. We were very happy [cabin] campers.

While Becky spent some well-earned time for herself at the cabin, the rest of us headed out to the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, a lovely place we'd discovered during our last trip to Mohican. This time our visit was rain-free. I'm nowhere near the naturalist that Amy is (or Della was), so I won't embarrass myself by trying to identify all these critters. I'll just share a few photos.

Our eating schedule a bit off-kilter, we swapped a late lunch for apps by the stream. I brought bread, cheese, and an array of olive-bar items, trying to keep it simple. Unsuprisingly, I brought way more than needed. However, the leftovers made a great, easy spread to nibble on while watching last night's Top Chef Masters.
And for dinner, I transformed that salmon into salmon-watermelon-kalamata-feta-mint salad.

Monday morning brought Amy's delectable quiche, and our departure from the cabin.We headed to the cemetery and spiffed up Della's (and her parents') headstones, pulling weeds and spreading mulch in the rain. Plus adding some celebratory bling - including an impromptu windchime made from some of Della's spoons.
You may be gone, girlfriend. But you're certainly not forgotten. We're already talking about your 50th.

Thanks to any of my kind readers who have made it to the end of this lengthy post. Sorry I was unable to participate in the Caribbean Culinary Smackdown. Hope you'll understand I've just been too busy traveling this month to let my blog rule my real life. But I look forward to checking out everyone's posts and imbibing your culinary inspirations!