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As soon as I see shiny dark red cherries in the grocery store, my mind floods with memories of summer days spent with my grandparents on their Indiana farm. Midway through the summer, my dad would pack up the trunk of the Chrysler and drive me and my mom and my brother from our home in St. Paul all the way to the Indiana farm - in a car with no air conditioning. Hot kids sharing a back seat can get cranky. I'm sure that annual drive was not a high point of parenthood for my mom and dad. Once at the farm, though, it was three weeks of bliss.
Sometimes it takes baby steps, or baby tastes, before we realize we actually like a certain type of food. For some, it might have been a first bite of a Reuben sandwich that led to a love of sauerkraut. For others, a bit of tapenade dabbed on a goat cheese-topped cracker that led to an appreciation of olives. For me, it was my first taste of crispy baked pieces of torn kale that led to an affinity for the firm green leaves with thick hardy stems. I'm a newcomer to the versatile world of kale.
I had my eye on an old ice cream maker at an antique shop a couple of weeks ago. I found it when I was crouching on the floor digging through a cardboard box filled with an array of treasures someone must have dropped off at the shop. It was an old hand-cranked model with a deep narrow tin inside of a round wooden container, with room for packing in plenty of salt and ice. I took the old ice cream maker up to the counter. I was getting close to the purchase when I silently reminded myself I already have two large electric ice cream makers on a shelf in the basement. They work fine.
It's time to pull those boxes of old canning jars out of storage. I'm suggesting this not just because it is the season for pickling asparagus, making jams of fresh berries and rosy rhubarb, and canning fresh produce. These days there are many more uses for those sturdy glass Mason jars. When I was visiting a farmers market in Arizona last winter, a baker was selling single servings of cheesecake that were baked in small canning jars and topped with berry sauce before getting sealed up tight.
I headed straight to my recipe file when I heard a recent news report that Minnesota strawberries are ripening earlier this year. Growers are expecting a sensational strawberry season, with predictions in some parts of the state that picking could begin as early as, well, right now. My thoughts turned to all of my favorite strawberry desserts. My Auntie Vera's strawberry shortcake has always been a seasonal tradition, mounds of sweet biscuit dough crumbled into a cereal bowl, topped with slices of fresh, sweet strawberries and whole milk or cream.
Eating an artichoke for the first time is an experience one remembers forever. Years ago, maybe 15 or so, my friend Cathy taught me how to eat the beautifully shaped green vegetable I'd often stopped to admire in the grocery store. Cathy had already cooked the artichokes by the time I arrived at her house. As we sat at her table, she showed me how to pluck the leaves from the artichoke, one by one, dip them into a pool of melted butter, and scrape each leaf between my teeth to release the tiny bit of flesh within.
As I used a wooden spoon to mix up a big bowl full of bright-colored ingredients for bean salad, I thought of what my mom would say if she was with me. "This is the cat's meow." She would say that when something impressed her with its ease and convenience. When I attended a meeting hosted by my friend, Pat, a couple of weeks ago, she served a bean salad which was inspired by something similar she'd eaten at The Village Fish Market in Punta Gorda, Fla. She emailed a list of the ingredients she had tossed together. No measurements were included.
When you're on the phone with Brenda Langton, owner of Spoonriver restaurant in Minneapolis, you can hear the smile in her voice; you can sense the sparkle in her eyes and feel the passion in her words. I talked to Langton two days after the season opener of the Mill City Farmers Market, which she started in 2006. The lively urban market spreads out in an open area between the Guthrie Theater and Spoonriver overlooking the Mississippi River in the Mill District of Minneapolis.
On our way to Hackensack, Minn., to do some last-minute shopping for bee supplies a couple of weeks ago, my beekeeping buddy, Bobbie, and I made a stop at Green Scene in Walker. A container of spinach hummus, prepared by chef Kristin Melby in the spotless, wide-open stainless steel kitchen that takes up about a third of the cozy store's space, went into my bag of organic food purchases. Typically, hummus, a Middle Eastern food enjoyed as a dip for vegetables or pita bread, is made of cream-colored garbanzo beans (sometimes called chickpeas) and tahini, a paste made of hulled sesame seeds.
When a friend of mine told me her husband was at the grocery store picking up some chia seeds, I did what anyone who watched television in the 1980s would do. I sang. "You mean, ch-ch-ch-chia?" The catchy tune of the singing chia pet commercial popped right out of my mouth. My friend assured me they did not have a terra cotta animal that allows chia seeds to sprout and grow, creating shaggy green hair on the clay figure.