"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Saturday, October 1, 2011


What a great way to begin October!

It's true that part of my love of place is food-related. Maybe it goes back to childhood and the insane garden that my mom kept, the vegetables that we'd eat right out of the garden, just barely rinsed at the spigot, maybe it was the sense of camaraderie of preparing those veggies to be frozen or canned for the winter. Maybe it was just a satisfaction of growing something. I don't know. I just know that I miss having a garden.

When I was living in Bowling Green, I didn't miss a garden so much because I had the amazing Toledo Farmer's Market, that I frequented with my good friend Amanda nearly every week during the summer. I'd brew the tea, pick her up, and away we'd go. Sometimes we had shopping lists, sometimes we'd see what was good. That was the first place I'd seen brussels sprouts on their stalk. I never knew they grew that way. But I knew they were tasty. A friend of mine from church helped out his family at their stand and he always cut me a deal on canning tomatoes.

Amanda and I taught in the same English department at the university and we knew each other long before we became friends, probably through her husband, FDR, who also taught in the same department and is an amazing poet (Amanda's no slouch in that area herself). I'm sure that the change probably had something to do with food. We discovered that we only lived one street away from each other, so discussions of food became "Hey, I just made this, want leftovers?" or "Hey, I just made this, I need a second opinion!" And across the street we'd go. We started walking in the mornings, sometimes with her tank of a black lab, Bleu, who still thinks he's a puppy. (He may always be a puppy to us.)

Most of those conversations were discussions of various Food Network shows, expressions of love for the awesomeness that is Jamie Oliver, talking about locally sourced food and more. She's the one who introduced me to kale, sautéed in a bit of olive oil and butter till it's just wilted, spritzed with lemon juice, lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper. She made me Jamie Oliver's steak and guinness pie for my birthday once and I swear I could hear angels singing. That fall, we split a quarter of a cow, locally-sourced, grass-fed beef, and it was the greatest thing I'd ever done.

We are the people who take pictures of our food when we go out to eat. If you want to see us in action (albeit in written form), click here. Amanda herself writes for her very cool blog Everyday Palate.

As a cook and an eater, she's completely fearless. (But, she's not a baker. Completely different skill set, she would say. I was the baker of the two.) Part of that has to do with the influence of one Sarah Lenz, who writes on a very cool blog called Prose and Potatoes. I don't know Sarah as well, but she also teaches in the same English department. Sarah is even more fearless than Amanda, especially when it comes to unmentionable bits of various animals. She raises her own chickens. If it can be made herself, she does it.

Amanda has been the Food and Wine editor of the online journal Connotation Press for two years and this fall, they've morphed the written element of the column into a video. Sarah and Amanda have their own cooking show, Spatula. It's amazing. One ingredient, two ways. This month, it's beef and they're making burgers. Amanda is using locally sourced ground chuck from the grocery store and Sarah is grinding her own from chuck and short ribs. I started to drool, I swear. Real burgers are a work of art. These two have personality, they have skills, they have a love of food that is as evident as the finished product. This is a cooking show that you'll want to keep an eye on, if for no other reason than it's fun. Food Network, watch out!

I have heard rumors that Sarah is coming to Omaha over spring break and may drag Amanda with her--I hope so! I can see it now: Spatula: Tiny Kitchen Edition.

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