Friday, June 25, 2010
this meal was based on a recipe for Spaghetti with Arugula and Ricotta from the Local Flavors cookbook. we didn't have arugula, but we did have agretti, so we substituted that instead. we also added some toasted breadcrumbs to the top, in lieu of the walnuts the recipe calls for.
and even better - hannah made it!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Salsola soda, more commonly known in English as Opposite Leaved Saltwort, Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle, or Barilla Plant, is a small (to 0.7 m tall), annual, succulent shrub that is native to the Mediterranean Basin. It is a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant) that typically grows in coastal regions and can be irrigated with salt water.
The plant has great historical importance as a source of soda ash, which was extracted from the ashes of Salsola soda and other saltwort plants. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances that are crucial in glassmaking and soapmaking. The famed clarity of 16th century cristallo glass from Murano and Venice depended upon the purity of "Levantine soda ash," and the nature of this ingredient was kept secret. Spain had an enormous 18th century industry that produced soda ash from the saltworts (barrilla in Spanish). Soda ash is now known to be predominantly sodium carbonate. In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy isolated a metallic element from caustic soda; he named the new element "sodium" to indicate its relationship to "soda." Before soda was synonymous (in U.S. English) with soft drinks, the word referred to Salsola soda and other saltwort plants, and to "sodas" derived from soda ash.
While the era of farming for soda ash is long past, Salsola soda is still cultivated as a vegetable that enjoys considerable popularity in Italy and with gourmets around the world. Its common names in Italian include Barba di Frate, Agretti, and Liscari sativa. Of its culinary value, Frances Mayes has written that "Spinach is the closest taste, but while agretti has the mineral sharpness of spinach, it tastes livelier, full of the energy of spring."
oh, i know, it's all quite fascinating (well, it is to me at least). which brave soul decided this could be eaten we'll never know, but i'm glad they did. much more tender and mild than your typical green, the plant has an almost pasta like quality to it. to me, once cooked it tastes very much like pasta tossed with olive oil and salt. to say it's become a favorite in our house would be an understatement. even oliver loves this new "green spaghetti."
while at the market, bryan learned of a new way to serve it: sauteed with hot peppers and italian sausage. the idea was so tempting we decided to try it out post haste.
unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), my late night trip to the outpost yielded no sausage, since the meat counter was closed. but this did provide me the incentive to make my own sausage, which i've done in the past. i hauled out 4 or 5 pounds of ground pork (from our pig), and doused the meat liberally with red wine. i added fennel seeds and various herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary, plenty of oregano), along with some garlic, salt, and pepper. and then i added some more wine, for good measure. i let this cure in the fridge for 24 hours before using it (should have been longer, but providence being what it was, we needed to use it). i made small meatballs since i don't have sausage casings.
i sauteed sliced onions, garlic, and sweet peppers in olive oil. the original recipe idea calls for hot peppers, but since we had little mouths dining with us, i decided to use sweet in the main recipe with some hot on the side for bryan and me (i fire roasted a few jalapenos, skinned them, and chopped them up for us). i tossed in the agretti, covered it for a few minutes, then uncovered to let the water cook off and the agretti saute.
i followed Lidia Bastianich's recipe for polenta (since i can never remember the ratios on my own), and just added some grated parm once on our plates.
the resulting dish was delicious, and other than some polenta, no leftovers remain.
if you get a chance to get your hands on some agretti, i highly recommend it!
some more information on and recipes for agretti can be found here.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
located in Baraboo, WI, Devil's Lake is close to the Wisconsin Dells, so our plan was to include a day outing to the Dells for shopping and eating.
there is a 2 night minimum on reserving a camp site. we figured if oliver only made it 1 day, we could always come home early, but were hoping for a full weekend in the woods. i booked site 301 on the Ice Age Campground, which was close to the bathrooms (a must with children and a pregnant lady). the site turned out to be pretty open, but wasn't too bad for our purposes.
i took friday off, and after some errands and a quick visit to work to show off the kids, we got packed up and were ready to be off. the plan was for oliver to nap in the car, and he did fall asleep, but only slept for an hour or so. we made it to the park around 4pm, and got set up while hannah and oliver had fun running around and exploring.
we made taco Pudgy Pies for dinner, which everyone loved, and s'mores for dessert. oliver really just wanted the chocolate, and couldn't be bothered with graham crackers or marshmallows (though he was more than happy to eat my toasted marshmallow instead). oliver just loved sitting around the campfire, which he was very respectful of.
shortly thereafter, i realized it doesn't get dark until well after oliver's bedtime, so putting him to bed might be a bit of a challenge. he stayed up a little late, then it was off to bed, which he wasn't too thrilled about. he wasn't throwing a fit, he just didn't want to go to bed. and since he can undo the zipper door and get himself out of the tent, it was a bit of a challenge to keep him in there. he taught himself to do somersaults, and proceeded to somersault around the tent until 10:30pm or so. eventually, with the aid of a flashlight, he conked out.
but his sleep was not long lived. he woke up sometime (i am guessing) between 12am - 1am, FREAKED OUT that we were in a tent. i eventually got him settled on the queen size air mattress, where he took up half the mattress while bryan and i shared the other half. oliver continued to wake up and call out for me, grab my hand, and go back to sleep. then he was up for the day at 5:30am (damn summer sun rise). so we didn't get a lot of sleep. amazingly, hannah slept through all of it, tossing, turning, screaming, and all.
the first thing oliver said to me was, "i want to go home, mama." bryan and i really wanted to stay another night, but we decided with ollie's short nap the day before, little sleep that night, and his fear of sleeping in the tent, there was no way we'd be able to get him down for a nap and bedtime without some pretty major meltdowns. so we decided to hang around the park, head into the dells, then get home.
Devil's Lake has a lot of hiking trails, and bryan selected the East Bluff Woods trail for us, which ends in a lookout on a bluff. took us a minute to realize, but when hiking to a bluff, you hike straight uphill. oliver ran most of the way up! we were all wondering where he got the energy for that. we walked for a good while before i asked how far we were going - 1.3 miles each way. um, no thanks, my back can't handle that. as we turned around, i checked the map, and we had actually ended up on the 3.4 mile EACH WAY trail. thank goodness we turned around! oliver decided he was tired (and it just took a mile run uphill to do it), and bryan carried him the whole way down - and he SLEPT! it was pretty funny, walking through the woods with a sleeping toddler on bryan's shoulder. he definitely needed a little nap to re-energize him, though, so it was a good thing.
oliver, hannah, and i went to one of the small playgrounds while bryan packed up camp and the car. after a little while, hannah headed back to help him, and after another little while, ollie and i went back too. we stopped in a small tunnel to yell "ECHO!" for a bit, since that is one of the funnest things we do around here.
with the car packed up, it was time to head into the dells for a short shopping excursion and some lunch before hitting the road for home. this should have been a 20 - 30 minute drive along county roads. but at one point, the road split into three: 1) the way we should have continued to go, 2) to the highway west (and towards the dells), and 3) to the highway east (back to milwaukee). guess which one we ended up on? if you guessed the wrong one, give yourself a prize. and sadly there was 13 miles until the next exit, which would give us a 45 minute detour. we decided to cancel plans and just head home, but ollie fell asleep immediately so we figured we could give him a bit of a nap and head there anyway. took us awhile, but we made it to the dells.
our first stop was Parson's Indian Trading Post. established in 1914, this store has become a dells tradition. one room is actually filled with real indian things, and the other half of the store is touristy crap (but we love it nonetheless!). i picked up some beads for a labor beads project my online mom's group is doing, and a polished stone with a dinosaur etching on it for ollie.
then it was off to lunch at the Cheese Factory, an amazing little vegetarian restaurant, and i daresay one of the only places in all the dells that serves actual food. we discovered them a few years ago on a trip to the dells, and we even risked insane tired toddler melt down to go there (luckily, the 45 minute nap in the car and some food in his belly did wonders to mitigate any potential insanity). rachel ray may like their grilled cheese, it's the rest of the menu that gets my heart going. all fresh and homemade, it's hard to go wrong here. i had the chimichanga (Chicken flavored tofu, rice, Jack cheese, Romesco Sauce prepared from roasted red peppers, garlic and smoked almonds; grilled onions, and green chilies wrapped in a deep fried flour tortilla. Served with fresh greens, salsa and sour cream). bryan, hannah, and ollie all had grilled cheese, and hannah and ollie even enjoyed some shakes with their meals (hey, it was vacation, right?). they have an honest to goodness soda fountain, including homemade phosphates. i cannot resist a homemade phosphate (i had strawberry). unfortunately, we were all too full for dessert.
our last stop before leaving town was Market Square Cheese, another dells tradition for us. more than just a cheese store, you can get jams and jellies, fudge, saltwater taffy, and of course every touristy tchochke known to man. bryan got a limburger (which he will eat alone under penalty of death), i picked up a port wine cheese spread (which is just disappointing after having made my own), and we also got some saltwater taffy and fudge (peanut butter, and turtle). i didn't pick up any of their super aged cheddar, since it was only sold in blocks over a pound, and being the only one who would eat anything that sharp, there's no way i found finish it before it went bad. and at $25/block (for the old stuff), i couldn't let that happen.
then it was time to go. we had hoped oliver would nap on the way home, but that didn't happen right away. an hour or so into the ride, we heard an occasional banging, shaking noise in the front wheel well. we stopped to take a look, as bryan thought it was the alignment, but it looked ok, so we kept going. oliver finally fell asleep about an hour from home. we were almost there when we learned the true reason for the noise - threadbare tires - as the front right tire literally blew up in a smoking ball of rubber and fibers (and whatever else is in a tire). seriously, that thing was in shreds. i should have taken a picture. luckily, we were driving fairly slow in the right hand lane, so were able to safely pull off to the side. also as luck would have it, we were right by the exit to mom and dad's house, so dad came to pick hannah, oliver, and i up while bryan dealt with the car. oliver was not happy about being woken up and transferred to another car (oh yeah, he totally slept through that whole episode), but he fell back asleep immediately once in dad's car. bryan got the spare tire on the jeep, then took it to get all new tires. better safe than sorry (she says a few days too late).
additional pictures aquí.
we were happy to be home at last. i do enjoy camping and i hope one day oliver can learn to like sleeping in a tent (or a camper as the future highly suggests), but being home is pretty darn nice, too. bryan and hannah headed out to see Prince of Persia, which i had no interest in seeing (does anyone else really dislike Jake Gyllenhaal, or is it just me? and the thought of him trying to act all sexy with those muscles - GAG. you're never gonna be sexy, dude.). anyway. oliver and i enjoyed a quiet evening at home, then i got him off to bed early (and boy did he pass out).
all in all, misadventures aside, a fun half a weekend of camping. in the end, it's nice to have today to relax some at home.
after i bake a rhubarb pie, of course.