Thursday, May 28, 2009


This just about sums up our day yesterday.

Oh, and lots of this...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blame It On the A-a-a-a-a-alcohol

What do you get when you marry a cheap bottle of vodka to a host of different botanicals? Sounds like a bad joke, I know, but that is what I set out to discover when I undertook making my own gin. Now, before you roll your eyes and think "how pretentious..." to yourself, hear me out. I have long marveled the ingenuity with which we (like how I lumped myself in there?), as the human race, have come up with some of the finest contributions to the food world, both before and after the proverbial sliced bread. I mean, come on, what Swiss yodeler came up with the brilliant idea of heating up some curds, then pressing them in a mold and cave ageing for a bit, thereby giving us Gruyere, a cheese beloved for its versatility, adding savoriness and extra yum to just about anything it touches? Or any cheese for that matter-doesn't it just wow you that so many different textures and tastes could come of what is basically animal milk and rennet? Or any of the other variations of cow's milk- don't get me started on the joys of butter, clotted cream, creme fraiche, cream cheese, etc. Then there's the legend of the goatherd who discovered the mysterious beans that made his goats jump, roasted them over the fire, ground them, and brewed them in boiling water, thereby producing the first official cup of coffee and spawning an entire industry that now employs my husband and pays our monthly bills (as well as hooking him body and soul). Beer, wine, all 450 million kinds of cheeses (or at least that's how it feels walking down the 4 Aisles of cheese at the grocery here in Wisconsin), and liquor have all sprung out of the alchemy of genius, and while I make no claims as to the latter, I do, however, have a hankering for learning more about the different processes by which we arrive at culinary and libation greatness. I stumbled recently on an article about gin that piqued my interest and since it gave an interesting recipe for a kitchen gin that is no more difficult than brewing iced tea, I decided to give it a shot. So I piled the kids into the burley and biked to the liquor store for a bottle of neutral spirits, in this case, a 40 proof vodka. On the way home, we stopped by the co-op and took advantage of their bulk spices, grabbing what I didn't already have growing out back. Ryan seemed a little dubious at first, but got excited when he saw everything laid out.

We had about one shot left in our bottle of Bombay gin, so we sampled it before starting our own; right away, we could both taste the juniper, which is the primary ingredient in gin.

The other aromatics can be played around with, but you don't have gin without juniper. After filtering and straining the herbs out, you are left with a somewhat muddier gin that what you'd purchase. Maybe it was because I took a lot of time to scratch and sniff everything before I added it to the bottle, but with the first sip after filtering, I could definitely taste at least a few of the herbs, which was exciting because a). before this point in time, I had no clue what made gin gin and b). I really have an atrocious palate for someone who likes food and drink so much.
In this recessionary climate, when the budget for "luxury" items (which in our household, includes liquor) is stretched thin or non-existent, it was quite a treat to unlid, after 24 hours, a complex, and dare I say sweet gin that rivaled an expensive bottle at the store. Sharing the first gin and tonics of the season, using our own spirits, with dear friends under the twinkling stars was about as good as it gets.
Jeremy and Hansi, holding baby Jasper before taking our drinks out under the pergola.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All About My Mother

You didn't think I was going to let the day get away without paying tribute to you, did you mom?

Since the day I started this blog (which was only a few short days ago, mind you), I've been thinking about my mom and all that she has taught me. Which is everything I know about being a mom. She was the reassuring voice on the other end of the line encouraging me that my instinct as a mother was God given and that "parenting books are fine and all, but sweetie, listen to your gut." She was the one modeling healthy eating habits, raising most of our food organically in our back yard long before it was the trend to do so (in fact, I think most of the neighbors thought we were strange). Making just about everything from scratch. Trying to teach me to sew, quilt, crochet, knit, and embroider long before DIY became its own genre in the blogworld and bookstores. She's the smartest, most truly intellectual person I know and yet she would never make you feel bad for not knowing what the Nicene Creed is or for mispronouncing Nietszche or Proust, both of which I've done on several occasions! She has a pure and insatiable thirst for learning and talks about the things she's passionate about in a way that is inspiring and not patronizing. Despite being such a smartie, she saw the value in staying home with us four rambunctious kids until we were all in school, waiting until then to go back to school and earn her degree. She taught my brothers and I the value of hard work, a job well done, and tenacity in the face of adversity.

I swore up and down when I embarked on this blog that I wasn't going to make it too personal, but it's Mother's Day and I think it's my prerogative to break the rules every once in a while. So, Mom, I hope you know how much I love you, how much I rely on you, and how grateful I am to have you as my mom.

It's A Family Affair

Yesterday found us at the Dane County Farmer's Market in downtown Madison. If you have never been to this market, you are missing something special. After being cooped up most of the winter due to plummeting temperatures bottoming out around -17 degrees, Wisconsinites are pretty happy when April rolls around and the sun has warmed the earth enough to produce the first crops of the season. Folks come out in droves to the farmer's market to walk the capitol square and it's a veritable cornucopia of sights and sounds. It's easy to feel overstimulated at first, especially if you are like me and don't get out much. There are so many amazing vendors and each stall is more alluring than the last, but I finally found what I was really looking for- rhubarb, the unofficial herald of spring.

I can't say that I have much experience with this mysterious vegetable aside from the ubiquitous strawberry rhubarb pie everyone trots out this time of year, but something about it intrigues me. Perhaps it's because the cherry-red celery looking stalk reminds me of a silk taffeta Belle Epoch dress, or maybe it's the challenge of an unknown food. Whatever it is, I set out for the market with rhubarb on the brain. We found an organic farm selling beautiful stalks with the dirt still hanging on and promptly purchased 1 1/2 lbs.

Today we spent a good deal of Mother's Day afternoon cooking and baking together. I had found a recipe for Rhubarb Ginger jam in Gourmet magazine and thought it sounded heavenly, especially on homemade bread. Sam and Oliver set about chopping the stalks into pieces while I chopped the crystallized ginger. Sam and O look like the dueling chefs here, but I assure you, it was all amicable.When all the ingredients were ready to cook, I was dubious about the contents of my pan turning into jam. After a few minutes, however, the most amazing smells wafted into the air. As Ryan put it, it was like a floral perfume, but in the best subtle way possible. I actually closed my eyes when I did the first taste test and all I can say is that it tasted like Spring. The combination of lemon and crystallized ginger provided a nice contrast to the tartness of the rhubarb and there was none of the stringiness usually associated with the plant.

While the boys and I were doing all this, Ryan set about making Oatmeal Honey Bread.

The boys could hardly wait for the bread to cool off enough to cut into thick steaming slices. We slathered each piece in butter and fresh jam and enjoyed a lovely meal a la Frances. Which is appropriate, if you think about it. Frances is a badger. And Wisconsin is the badger state.

Here's my riff on the Rita Newell Rhubarb Ginger Jam recipe:

1 1/2 lbs. fresh rhubarb cut into 3/4" pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
Zest from one lemon

Combine all ingredients in heavy duty sauce pan.
Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Prepare jars if canning or let cool and eat right away. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Word About the Name

So I'm not entirely sure why I named this site 'Bean Sprouts'. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that sprouts have been on my mind a lot lately. For one thing, my sister-n-law and two of my nieces arrive from Seattle on Tuesday, and Summer is in the habit of referring to her girls as "bean", which works out particularly well in the case of the youngest, a cherubic little thing we like to call 'Sabiney'. Then there's the fact that I have 4 boys that seem to be growing like sprouts. If you've ever sprouted anything, you'll know what I mean.

Especially with the entrance of Dapper Japper:Having such a full house makes the days go by so quickly. A little too quickly, if you ask me. Suddenly, Jasper is 3 months old tomorrow and has gone from miraculous little newborn to charming smiling cooing baby boy. Like I said, sprouts.
Then there's my friend Tracy. who brought up sprouting alfalfa in jars, something my mom used to do all the time, which inspired me to do it myself. If you've never done it, you should give it a whirl. Soak a tsp. of alfalfa seeds in a wide mouthed glass Ball jar overnight. Drain it next morning and then rinse it a few times a day, being sure to drain thoroughly between rinses. In a few days, voila! your sprouts will be ready for eating. They are great on salads, sandwiches, and eggs, specifically a dish that family lore calls the Anna Marie Omelette.

Back in the '60's, my parents were hippies. The real deal. Lived in a bus for a while and everything. And in between stints of grateful dead following and commune hopping, my dad worked at a breakfast joint of some sort in Eugene, Oregon (The Creperie, I believe). His co-worker, a girl named Anna Marie invented an omelette specifically as a show case for the humble sprout.

You start out with 2 eggs, a splash of milk or cream, salt and some cracks of black pepper.
Whisk together and pour into skillet, preferably cast iron, prepped with melted unsalted butter. Swirl the mixture until it coats the bottom of skillet. Cook over medium heat. When the eggs are just about cooked through, spread a few ounces of cream cheese over one half of pan. Top with alfalfa sprouts and crumbled bacon.
Try not to salivate over the skillet while you fold over the omelette, pressing gently to spread the cheese. It took me several attempts before I could get it from the pan to the plate without breaking it, but I think one of the tricks is to make sure your skillet is well buttered before hand.

I've been reading Molly Wizenberg's charming book My Homemade Life, and in it, she recounts being asked over for dinner by an admirer, only to find that dinner would only consist of 7 different kinds of sprouts. She wasn't impressed. Perhaps if that guy had made these omelettes, she would have had a different story to tell!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Garage Sale-ing

What do you do when you wake up after a storm to a gorgeous Thursday morning in May? You go garage sale-ing, of course.

With SIX kids.

Four of them being boys, although Japper, as Felix calls Jasper (and sad to say, the nick name has stuck) hardly counts, being quite cute and cuddly and not quite 3 months of age.

I have to admit that at 11pm the night before, when the rain was coming down in what could only be referred to as a torrential downpour, I almost called my dear friend Beth to question the sanity of attempting such an outing, but I was too tired so instead I went to sleep. But not before watching one more episode of MI-5.

Ryan woke me up at the ungodly hour of 7am and I almost changed my mind again about going- after all, was it really sane to wake up my 4 boys, wrestle them sleepily into clothes, feed them a breakfast of cereal-in-a-baggie, and ask them to "be good" while I schlepped them 45 minutes away to Waunakee for the city-wide garage sales? Well, dear friends, whether it was sane or not, who can argue with the allure of 5 block radius of sales, chock full of $1 bargains?

I hit the jackpot at the very first sale we stopped at.
I mean, check these babies out! Vintage Red Wing Boots, the requisite shoe of all hipsters. If you don't believe me, check out the Sartorialist, band of outsiders and any guy walking out of Context in downtown Madison. Red Wings are no longer resigned to be content shodding the feet of tobacco chewing hunters kickin' back PBR while waiting for poor unsuspecting Bambi to meander out into the open. No, these babies have become the calling card for the under 30 crowd who would rather be caught dead than wearing something other than $250 selvedge denim (while also kicking back PBR, the new drink of choice for said hipsters). But I digress. These boots jumped out at me immediately, and so did the masking tape price tag. $1. I had to look twice to make sure I'd seen it correctly. The guy whose garage we were (a) saleing told me that they'd been his grandpa's and he didn't even want to think about what they had cost new. I didn't want to remind him. I'd just seen J. Crew trotting out a special edition for the meager amount of $225. Yeah, jackpot. Mr. Garage Sale Man thought they were a size 10 so I figured if they didn't fit Ryan, I could resell them on ebay and make back anything I spent. They happen to agree with Ryan's feet quite nicely, however, so I think they are here to stay.

I also scored two tennis rackets, a book (which Sam promptly mislaid while tying his shoes), lemonade from a cute little girl, bikes for Sam and Oliver, and Sperry Top Siders for Felix. If Felix were 22, he'd be the envy of all his friends. Somehow, Sperry Top Siders have joined forces with Red Wing Boots to become the come back kids of the shoe world. I mean, these things are ALL over the place. If you don't believe me, check out the sartorialist, band of outsiders (or the Proenza Schoeler boys- they may have single handedly made them uber cool), and any guy walking out of Context in downtown Madison. Are you noticeing a pattern here? Felix, being 2 and not 22, however, isn't too sure. He likes PBR though.
But the crowning joy was the bike for Ryan. It was the reason we stopped at the first sale. A barely used Mongoose mountain bike with an attached kid carrier and helmet to boot. $75. We've been looking for bikes so we can start taking advantage of all the bike trails in and around Madison and thanks to yesterday's coup, we're now only a bike away (for me) from realizing that dream. Ryan let me get a taste of that dream last night. It was date night at our house so once I got all 9 kids jammied up, Ryan told me to take a spin. It really is true what they say about riding a bike- you never forget. It's been at least a decade since I've hopped atop one, and I'll admit, I was a wee bit nervous, but it came back instanteously. I set off down Milwaukee St. and headed south onto a country road. Folks, it was a gorgeous ride. Sun setting on a beautiful old farmstead set in a field beginning to show the first seedlings of the season, the grass on the embankment the most verdant I've ever seen, and a full moon rising over head.

I'd say it was worth it, wouldn't you?