edibles

Favorite Twin Cities Breweries

My husband and I spent the first five years of our marriage living in Madison, Wisconsin before moving back to the Twin Cities. We loved it there. Wisconsin is known for many things: cheese, Packers football, and, my favorite, beer.

We were immersed in the craft beer world. Not only did we live near fabulous breweries, but each restaurant we frequented had beer lists that read more like chapter books, with double-digit amounts of local, craft beers on tap. I quickly moved on from the Bud Light of my college days and picked up on the difference between ales and lagers, appreciated the hoppiness of IPAs, and learned the correct way to pronounce "hefeweizen."

While the craft beer movement has exploded throughout the country, we're especially lucky in the Twin Cities. There are over 130 breweries in the state and most of them are located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding suburbs. Local taprooms have even become a favorite hang-out for my husband, though he prefers not to drink himself. We love to check out new ones on date nights, bounce around a few with a group of friends, and sometimes we even bring our three kids along. Here are some of our Twin Cities favorites.

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Find out my favorites over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

Life Lately

Like many of you, my heart has been with the detention centers at the border. As more and more reporting came out late last week and over the weekend, I couldn’t tear my mind away from it.

Which means that as I washed off a face mask and shaved my legs in the shower, I thought how immigrants to my own country weren’t even provided with soap. And when I started my period on Sunday I thought of all the teenage girls who would get their periods, maybe for the very first time, in an overcrowded detention center. I have little hope these girls are being provided with pads or tampons if they’re not even being given toothbrushes. I pray for a kind female border guard or older teenage girl to help them through. And as I threw away a head of lettuce, a pint of blueberries, and two containers of leftovers that went bad before we could eat them, I thought how these kids are saying they’re not being fed enough, they’re still hungry, that they can’t go out to play because it takes all their energy just to survive another day.

These are kids who are in America. In 2019. I’m tired of being told these people are a threat to us when clearly we are a threat to them.

Sit with that a moment. And then read this Instagram post, and this article, and this one, too. And let it crush you as you imagine your children in such a place and let it make you physically sick to your stomach. Then read them again.

Part of me wants to rush down there and scoop up as many of those children as I can and bring them back home. Obviously that’s not practical or feasible in any way shape or form. It seems like so little, yet if you can, please consider donating to Together Rising. They are working with people on the ground to reunite families, give these children proper medical care, and to get them out of there as fast as they can.

Also contact your representatives. Let them know we’re watching. Because there’s no such thing as other people’s children. And if we’re a country that truly values children, this is not the kind of country we want to be.

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Horrific story adjacent: One thing I’ve been doing to combat mindlessly scrolling through social media is to stop whenever I see something awful, something that hits me to my core. Things like the reports of the treatment of children at the border, a post from a friend about infant loss, etc. When it makes me stop and think, when it makes my heart hurt, I stop what I’m doing and put my phone down. I may click into the article if it’s a news report, but then I put it away. I sit with those feelings and really force myself to think about what I’ve just read.

It can be hard sometimes. Who wants to sit with those shitty feelings? But it feels more honest than to continue to scroll. To continue through photos of happy families on vacation and ads for clothes I don’t need but am tempted to click on, anyway.

Honestly, it felt more shitty when I kept scrolling and tried to shove those feelings down. It’s helped. It’s something.

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In an abrupt shift, because that seems to be how my brain works these days, these two spent the better part of the weekend riding around on two wheels.

One push from me, and a little bit of convincing, was all it took. Those balance bikes are miracle-workers for sure. Teaching them to ride on two wheels, something I thought we could do to kill time - maybe take up the better part of an afternoon - took all of ten minutes. And that included the time it took to take the training wheels off.

“That wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!” Brooklyn said after her inaugural ride down the sidewalk.

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The food websites have been bringing it lately with their collections of food writing. First was Bon Apetit with their “Welcome to Red Sauce America” essays. (I read it over a period of a week…and had a mad craving for some chicken piccata the whole time. Which has yet to be fulfilled.) Then, less lengthy but no less fun, Taste talked all things 90’s in “The 90’s Issue”. While all the pieces are worth a read, I’m calling out “The Bizarre History of Buca di Beppo” and “The 1990s Boom of California’s Mexican Supermarkets” as my personal favorites. (I also have to give a shout out to a favorite spot in Madison as well as a favorite here.)

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Food adjacent: please read this op-ed from the New York Times: “Smash the Wellness Industry”.

I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. “The thing is,” she said with a grimace, “you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.”

The new dietitian had a different take. “What a gift,” she said, appreciatively, “to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?” It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.

It’s. So. Good.

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I made a big batch of homemade freezees a few weeks ago using these. They work great, though the zip-close doesn’t work very well. While they’re not reusable like I was hoping, at least the kids are eating pureed fruit instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

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I promise it’s simple: pulse up some fruit along with just a little orange juice or lemonade in a food processor, add sugar if needed (I used less than a tablespoon with each batch, otherwise they were pretty tart), pour, and freeze. My next step is to just freeze lemonade for some Italian ice-style freezees. So far we’ve made:

  • strawberry (strawberries with orange juice)

  • mixed berry (strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries with lemonade)

  • cantaloupe (cantaloupe with a few strawberries and orange juice)

  • strawberry-banana smoothie (strawberries, a banana, and yogurt instead of juice) (my favorite!)

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I’ve been living in these shorts and these shirts. I bought two pairs of the shorts (dark cinnabar and palm tree - recommend sizing down) and three of the shirts (fit is pretty true-to-size, or size up for a looser fit). They go perfectly together. I wear the shirt tucked in (and consequently feel like a throwback to the early ‘90’s), with a light cardigan thrown over the top for the cooler days (which we’ve had way too many of lately). It’s my summer uniform.

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I’m scared to write this for fear of jinxing myself, but we seem to have entered an era where the kids enjoy playing with each other. Several times recently I’ve discovered them scattered: the twins playing LEGOs together in their room while Nolan flips through books or builds with Duplos in his, Brooklyn and Nolan playing “baby” while Caden plays with (you guessed it) LEGOs on his own. To be fair, Caden and Brooklyn have been able to play well together for years now, it’s the fact that Nolan has been that’s the true miracle.

It’s a nice break. Just this time last year I felt I couldn’t leave the room for fear Nolan would trash the house looking for the remote, sneak into the pantry to steal snacks, or climb on the counter to sneak actual spoonfuls of sugar.

Even outside I’ve been able to pull up a chair and sit - truly get lost in a book - while they play together in the driveway. They’re still riding their bikes and scooters and that old cozy coupe we got for free from a garage sale around the roads they create on the driveway with chalk. But it’s the very first time I don’t fear Nolan dashing into the street. The past couple years it was a game - I always felt there was about a 50/50 chance he would dash into the street for fun. And now he just…doesn’t.

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I wrote this last summer, and it seems relevant again now:

This is what I've been waiting for.

…A moment prior to this realization, guilt had found me. It crept in during the break in the action and began to berate me for not doing more. To write more, volunteer more, accomplish more. Maybe I should even go back to work. Guilt admonished me for the streaks on the kitchen floor and the fruit snacks they ate in the car and for being "just" a stay-at-home mom. Surely, at the very least, I should have cleaner floors.

In the next breath I realized this is what I've been dreaming of. This little break where no one at all needs me. The past four years have been intense. Twin infants and that whole three under three business and the sleep deprivation and the making of all the food and everything else. Of course even a little wiggle room feels like a lot. A pause, a moment to take a breath; it's been seemingly impossible these past few years. Which means my type-A personality kicked in to cue the guilt. Because surely only lazy people sit around their backyards at 3:30 pm on a Thursday with their sparkling water and their sandals and their colorful lawn chairs.

Soon enough a fight will break out or they'll see a bug or rush over all at once to demand freeze pops. Soon enough my backyard will be empty as they grow older and more independent. So I take this afternoon as a blessing. Just me and my sandals, a book in my lap, three small bodies in swimsuits, a blow-up pool, sunshine, and my sparkling water. With a lime.

This is exactly what I've been waiting for.

He’s still exhausting with all that energy, his penchant for anything as long as it’s a little bit life-threatening. But we might be getting there. Instead of holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop during any momentary lull, I’ve been taking deeper breaths, able to recharge and relax just a little bit more into just exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

Blackberry Ice Cream

I come from a family of ice cream eaters. My grandpa, so the story goes, would pick up ice cream from the store every Sunday - Neapolitan - so my mom, her five brothers and sisters, and, most importantly, my grandpa, could each eat a bowl while watching “The Wonderful World of Disney”.

I always wondered about the choice of Neapolitan. It probably had to do with the whole six kids thing - chances are each kid liked at least one of the flavors. (Traditionally chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and yes I went down a whole Neapolitan ice cream rabbit hole while writing this) Plus it was the ‘60’s. There weren’t exactly pints of Chubby Hubby or Phish Food in the freezer aisle. Neapolitan probably seemed pretty exotic. (I mean, just how do they get all three flavors in the carton, anyway? DON’T WORRY I ALSO RESEARCHED THAT FOR YOU. The cartons are apparently not square or round but “sqround” and this is my new most favorite thing ever.)

My uncles served up gallons of Neapolitan at my grandpa’s funeral, perfect little scoops in plastic bowls, an homage to the tradition from their childhood.

Growing up my dad would often bring me along to look at his job sites during the summer. He estimated public works-type construction projects. We would either be scoping out a job to bid, checking up on what his guys had done that day, or try to solve whatever problems had arisen. This usually meant long, boring car rides, followed by a stop next to a river, ditch, or sewer, often after driving along a bumpy dirt road that, despite my seatbelt, tossed me around the cab of his truck.

After he unrolled a plan, took some pictures, and poked around for awhile, we’d head home, hitting up a Dairy Queen on the way. Dip cones. Later I discovered the glory of cookie dough Blizzards. Sometimes he’d surprise us when he got home from work in the summer with a half-dozen Dilly Bars, hidden away in the freezer for us to enjoy the next day. (I always sought out the butterscotch ones.)

My middle school and half of my high school (9th and 10th grades) were within walking distance from Cup and Cone. It’s the definition of a local institution. When it opens for the season there’s always a line, no matter how cold it is. We used to find out when it was opening through word-of-mouth from someone whose brother’s friend’s cousin worked there. Now, come March, everyone just stalks Twitter.

After school in the spring or early fall you’ll still find whole gangs of kids trekking over after school for their ice cream fix and to hang out in the giant outdoor courtyard. I took my kids not long ago, on what happened to be the last day of school. The middle schoolers took over the line and the courtyard, shouting to each other and calling each other nicknames that had to be inside jokes, spaghetti-limbed and trying 4-letter words on their tongues to impress their friends.

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We bought an ice cream maker a couple years ago. It’s one of my favorite purchases. I pull it out at least once a week during the summer months. Despite the yum factor of those grocery store pints, (Talenti, I’m looking at you) (and yes I know it’s technically gelato) , nothing beats the simplicity of homemade ice cream.

We never had homemade ice cream at my house growing up, though my dad would create his own ice cream cone concoctions: fudge and caramel filling up the bottom, vanilla ice cream heaped inside, with more fudge and caramel drizzled over the top. (I figured out early on that if I wanted more fudge and caramel I should try eating the cone from the bottom. After that I was banished to the driveway anytime he brought home a box of cones and jars of caramel and fudge.) I’m betting most of us who grew up in America have a connection to ice cream in the summertime, whether it was from an ice cream truck, your own version of Cup and Cone, or scooped from those gallon-sized buckets in the freezer.

Nostalgia makes everything taste better, including homemade ice cream.

Blackberry Ice Cream
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This is also amazing with strawberries, though I recommend dialing the sugar back since strawberries are naturally sweeter (see note below). I’ve tried this with raspberries before and failed miserably, though I think blending up some mangos or peaches also has the potential to work here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pint blackberries, rinsed

  • 3/4 cup whole milk

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Put blackberries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with chopping blade. Pulse until a puree forms. Set aside.

  • In medium bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, and pinch of salt until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in cream and vanilla. Stir in blackberry puree. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, and preferably several. (I like to mix this up in the morning so it’s ready to go at dinnertime.)

  • When ready to mix, add to ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how long it’s been in the refrigerator. Scoop out to a freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid to store.

  • Serve in a cone, topped with chocolate bits, or just a few scoops in a bowl because it’s perfect all by itself.

NOTES

  • This is our ice cream maker. I have exactly zero complaints. (And yes, if you click through and buy something, I will make a small amount of money.)

  • When using strawberries I tone the sugar down to about half a cup or less. Even with blackberries I usually use a very scant 2/3 cup. Personal preference; you do you.

  • If you prefer, you can use a fine-mesh seive to strain the ice cream mix as you pour it into the ice cream maker. If not, you’ll end up with all the seeds, though they get kind of frozen and crunchy. I’ve done it both ways: sometimes I truly don’t mind the seeds (or I’m just too lazy) and other times I want a smoother texture.

  • This works best for fruit that’s on its way out. It’s the best way I’ve found to use up a container of half-mushy strawberries, or a pint of blackberries that are past their prime. I’d recommend against using frozen (unless you heavily strain them first) - frozen fruit just gets too mushy, liquid-y, and gooey (technical terms) to work well here.

Pasta with Prosciutto, Snow Peas, Basil, and Cream

This will be the fourth recipe I’ve posted here. So far I’ve shared one stew, one cake, one pasta.

Is it too soon for more pasta?

In our house the answer would be no, so that’s what I’m going to go with here.

I’ve never been much for tomatoes (except in salsa, bruschetta, or ketchup form). Marinara sauce has always made me gag a bit. Just ask my mom who used to roll her eyes at my request for plain noodles and meatballs on spaghetti night.

I’ve come around a little in recent years, though my favorite pasta sauces seem destined to always be cream-based. This one, despite a decent amount of heavy cream still feels light - not filling. Perfect for spring.

I first became aware of the idea of seasonal cooking when we were newlyweds living in Madison. Walking around the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings is still one of the things I miss the most. Especially if we could re-live the Saturdays of our pre-kid days, where we could sleep in, roll out of bed, take a lap around the farmer’s market, and return home to make up an omelette or breakfast hash with whatever fresh goodies we’d found that day. (And all served up with a side of hot spicy cheese bread.)

Spring is still the season that eludes me the most as far as cooking goes. I find it difficult to pinpoint the flavors of the season. Summer tastes like cold watermelon and burgers off the grill, fall is everything pumpkin and apple and cinnamon, winter is heavy with soups and stews. But spring? Usually when the first warm stretch hits I’m ready to crank up the grill and find the juiciest watermelon I can find, even if it is April and only 50 degrees.

Spring is lighter, I’m finding. More nuanced. It’s the flavors of ham and peas you see here. It’s all things asparagus and baby greens. It’s some early strawberries if you’re daring. It’s rhubarb, which I’m still learning to like.

Short of strolling around the farmers’ market like we used to, this is about as spring-y as it gets from our local grocery store.. Though I just discovered by adding the link above that you can now order hot spicy cheese bread by mail. Maybe we can recreate a piece of our farmers’ market glory days this weekend after all. This could be dangerous.

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Pasta with Prosciutto, Snow Peas, Basil, and Cream
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Depending on which kid this is in front of, they admittedly don’t eat much of the snow peas or prosciutto. I usually serve it with a salad and a handful of grapes, so at least they’re eating something fresh with their cream-covered pasta topped with “sprinkle cheese”. Adapted from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box orecchiette pasta

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 shallots (if big) or 4 shallots (if small)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4 pound prosciutto shank, sliced thin and cut into narrow strips

  • 1/2 pound snow peas, ends trimmed and chopped if large

  • 1 -1 1/2 cups cream

  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan plus more for topping

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 2 Tbsp. dried basil

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Cook pasta according to package directions.

  • Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes until they just begin to soften. Add garlic and saute for a minute more.

  • Add prosciutto to pan. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Add snow peas and continue to saute for 3-4 more minutes. Stir often so they don’t stick and don’t cook for too long - the peas should still be crunchy.

  • Add cream and just bring to a boil. Add Parmesan and stir until it’s melted and incorporated, then turn the heat to low. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil. Let the sauce just barely simmer over low heat while you wait for the pasta to finish.

  • Drain pasta and toss with the cream, prosciutto, and snow pea mixture. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and devour. Smile, because surely this is what spring tastes like.

NOTE

  • The original recipe calls for snap peas (which I can’t stand). I much prefer the lighter, thinner, snow peas to their thick, bulky cousins. If you’re less picky than I am, however, feel free to sub snap peas here.

  • I’m not really sure how much basil I use. I never measure it out. This is an educated but conservative guess - I’m pretty positive I use more. Add basil to your own taste, but don’t be shy. And if you’re one of those people who manages to have fresh herbs around please go for the fresh stuff.

Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake

Being that it’s my birthday week (I get to take over the whole week, right?) it’s only fitting to share one of my favorite sweet recipes. Not exactly a birthday cake, though I wouldn’t complain if you showed up at my house with a few candles stuck in one of these, freshly baked. It’s more of an everyday sweet cake. One that goes with everything from coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon. (Or half-slices snuck from the pantry at any time of the day while your kids run around like crazy people.) And, really, isn’t that the best kind of recipe of all?

Every year when the calendar switches over, my mind immediately turns toward spring. So do the stores, it seems, since everywhere seems to be exploding with pastels and florals. It’s actually depressing to walk through the Target aisles since here in Minnesota we’re still very much in the depths of winter. I grasp what springiness I can in the produce department, through citrus. It’s brightness reminds of what’s to come, hopefully sooner than later, unlike some years when the snow doesn’t melt until nearly May. I’M LOOKING AT YOU 2018.

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Brooklyn and Nolan helped me make this cake one afternoon while Caden was otherwise engrossed in some LEGO creation or other. They helped me measure the flour. (I swatted Nolan’s hand away from eating the flour plain as he’s been known to attempt. Blech.) They tried to guess what each ingredient was. “Now it’s time for sugar?” No this is baking powder. “That’s sugar?” This is salt. “Is that whipped cream?” No this is ricotta cheese. I scattered granules of sugar on the counter once it was actually time for that beloved ingredient, for them to dab up with their fingers.

I showed them how I zested and then squeezed out the lemons into a sieve, quizzed them on why you couldn’t just squirt the lemon juice straight into the bowl. I wonder if they’ll remember these baking lessons when they’re older, the same way I remember my mom showing me how to scoop and then level off cups of flour and sugar. (Even if I rarely take the time to tap and level off the cup now. Whoops.) Maybe they’ll remember how I showed them to scoop out a stray piece of eggshell from the batter, by using another piece of shell to break through the gooey white and remove the offending chunk.

I don’t know. Tyson told me the other day that he realized he has memories from preschool. “They could be creating memories right now!” he told me excitedly. I laughed; it’s true. I remember, vaguely, a few of my own preschool experiences. A warm spring day spent picking dandelions outside, sitting on the rug at circle time, a sheet printed with four bears to dress any way we desired, how I vividly remember using shiny foil to make one bear into an astronaut.

Maybe they’ll remember these baking sessions. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll remember, more tangibly, the way the cake comes out of the oven, it’s golden brown top crunchy and sweet. How excruciating it is to wait until the cake is cool enough to cut. And the way a slice of lemon-y pound cake tastes in the middle of a winter afternoon.

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Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake
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Every time I make this cake for someone they ask for the recipe. It stays magically moist if kept stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. I’m not sure for exactly how long, though, since it’s never lasted more than two or three days in our house. Modified slightly from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (do NOT use the low-fat stuff!)

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • zest of 2 lemons

  • juice of 1 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan well with butter.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  • With a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. At this point the batter may be lumpy; don’t worry, it will bake up fine in the end. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until incorporated.

  • Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (See note below.) If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil while the rest of the cake continues to bake. Let cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool completely on a cooling rack. (Or just forget about it entirely like I do and let it cool in the pan. Your choice.)

NOTE

  • I’ve noticed this pound cake bakes very differently for me depending on the type of pan I use. For a metal pan, plan on the 50-60 minutes noted and maybe needing to use the foil. For a glass pan (like Pyrex, which I prefer), plan on 60-75 minutes. I always check it at the 50-minute mark to gauge where it’s at, then set the timer at 5-minute increments so as not to over bake. Once the toothpick emerges cleanly and the loaf appears to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan, it’s good to go.