0623 Snack Dinner

This week has really made it clear to me how much we rely on meal planning to get real food on the table.  We had dinner plans Monday night, and last night we scraped together leftovers.  Tonight, lacking both leftovers and dinner plans, we had snacks:

0623 Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Salame

Beets from the farmers’ market, roasted in a tin foil packet with olive oil then dotted with a bit of goat cheese.  Sopressata from Trader Joe’s, picked up with just this kind of situation in mind.  The last crackers from the pantry.   A bottle of sparkling cider.

As Shane said, these dinners are always the best.  But I still can’t wait to get to the market this weekend, and to have real meals once we have real groceries on hand.


0622 Potato Salad

Potato Salad with Horseradish & Bresaola
photo by sassyradish

The culinary theme of our Rockford reception, held this past weekend, was BBQ.  My family ordered the pulled pork and brisket, made (or modified) the salads, and got the bread and baked goods from various favorite spots around town.  Everything was delicious – and as always, we had plentiful leftovers, some of which made the trip back to Michigan with us carefully packed in ice.  We’ve been revisiting those leftovers for lunch and snacks the last two days, and let me tell you, that’s a damned fine way to eat.

Which brings me around to the subject of today’s post: potato salad.  Any cookout salad, really, but potato salad in particular.

Potato Salad
photo by FotoosVanRobin

I would imagine that there are approximately as many varieties of potato salad as there are types of potatoes (Wikipedia tells me 4,000+!).  You can do your potatoes up with vinegar, bacon, mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, onions, horseradish, celery, and every kind of herb and spice you can imagine in any possible combination.  Some people cube their taters, while others like them sliced thin, while still others smash ’em up so that the salad falls somewhere closer to mashed potatoes.

Tolan's mom's potato salad
photo by Panem et Circenses

While each of these varieties has its place, my family’s potato salads tend to fall in the mayo-and-mustard camp.  Not too much mayo, though, or you lose the essence of the potato itself. Most store-bought potato salads go overboard on the mayo front – in fact, when Mom ordered the potato salad, she asked for lighter mayo, and was told they couldn’t do it? That’s OK, she said, we’ll just doctor it up at home.  And she did.  And when I ate the last of the potato salad today for lunch, I was truly sad.

Classic Potato Salad
Recipe from my grandma, Kay Fesenmeyer

Combine the following in a large bowl:
4 cups cooked and cubed red potatoes
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the following, then stir into the potato mixture:
1 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s, and don’t even THINK about using Miracle Whip)
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper (more to taste)
1 teaspoon mustard (more to taste)
1/2 cup dill relish (sweet relish is an abomination) or chopped up dill pickles

You can serve this up while the potatoes are still warm, or let it chill out in the fridge for awhile.  Either way it’ll be delicious.

0621 Strawberry Jam, Two Ways

We’re not big jam eaters.  There, I said it.  We both enjoy a good jam, but we’re much more likely to dip our toast in a runny egg yolk than to top it with a sweet spread.  We’re still working through the strawberry-rhubarb jam that I made last year.  BUT when you suddenly find yourself in possession of twenty pounds of strawberries, there’s not much to be done except get your jam on.

In one sweaty afternoon, I made two batches of jam: Strawberry Balsamic and Strawberry Vanilla.  I have the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which I can’t recommend highly enough to newbie canners, and both of the batches are riffs on their basic, oh so basic, strawberry jam recipe.  I’m giving full quantities for the original recipe here, which the cookbook claims should yield 8 pints, but I halved the recipe, resulting in about 5 pints of jam.  I then made the half recipe a second time, so I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I split the recipe?  Except that I made two totally separate batches.  Whatever.  The full recipe, as I prepared it, is as follows.  And it should give you 8-10 pints.  If you make the whole thing.

Strawberry Jam
Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

7 cups granulated sugar
8 cups whole strawberries
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 1.75 oz package regular powdered fruit pectin

Clean and sterilize your canning jars, lids, and rings, and have your open water bath standing by.

Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside.  Wash, hull, and slice strawberries.  Add strawberries and lemon juice to a sauce pan.  Whisk in pectin until dissolved, then bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently.  Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and skim off foam.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  If you don’t have enough jam to fill the final jar up to the top, don’t process it – set the jar aside for immediate enjoyment.  Place jars in open water bath and bring to a boil.  Process for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave jars in for another 5 minutes before removing.  Let jars cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours.  You should hear the tell-tale plink of lids sealing – if any lids have not sealed, reprocess those jars or stick ’em in the fridge for prompt eating.

Strawberry Balsamic Jam Strawberry Vanilla Jam
Strawberry-Balsamic Jam

Reduce lemon juice to 1 tbsp and add 3 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar.

Strawberry-Vanilla Jam

Add half a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, to the strawberries.  Cook as directed, removing the bean before transferring jam to jars.

0620 Maid-Rite

In honor of Fathers’ Day, I want to say a few things about my dad.

i am small

His childhood wasn’t the happiest, and he did everything from shoveling dog food to running the mouse game to put himself through college and med school. He has worked long hours all of my life to provide the sort of stability and leisure for our family that he didn’t have. He is a well-respected physician who is adored by his patients and his employees. He is also quiet and reserved, with a dry sense of humor and brown eyes, all of which I’ve inherited in spades.

Those long hours meant he wasn’t always around much when we were kids – but they also meant that Mom could be home with us, for which I’m very grateful. They also meant that we could go to private school, take family vacations, and have money available to us for college. And they mean that when Pop does get home, he has earned his downtime and his peace and quiet, which are the only things he ever ask for at the holidays.


We really had to press him last night to find out what he wanted to do for Fathers’ Day, and he finally said he wanted to go to Maid-Rite for lunch. Shane had never been to a Maid-Rite, so when we walked in, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. It’s a chain of diners, really, and their specialty is a “loose-meat sandwich” – basically a burger, except the ground beef isn’t formed into a patty, and is steamed rather than fried. We had Maid-Rites all around, except Mom, who craved their breakfast options, and Eric, who went for the regular burger.

Sunday, 20th June: Happy Fathers' Day

I had wanted to make a fancy brunch for the family for Fathers’ Day – we really enjoy cooking and good food, and I love to be able to share this with our families. Maid-Rite was definitely not what I had in mind – but then at lunch, as Pop told us about going to Maid-Rite with his dad when he was a kid and about his happy memories of sitting at the counter with his dad, I realized that this was his way of sharing something special with us. A Maid Rite sandwich – like peace and quiet, like a good workout, like a well-worn sweatshirt – is a simple pleasure that offers the kind of comfort, nostalgia, and relaxation that Pop amply deserves. And I’m glad we were able to share it with him this morning.

0619 With the Family

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about breakfasts growing up.  I know that my parents wouldn’t ever buy us sugar cereal, at least not when we were small, so if a box of Corn Pops came into the house, it was because one of us had bought it with our paper route or babysitting money.  Sugar cereals were something we’d look forward to when staying with our grandparents, who would buy the little sampler packs in anticipation of our week-long visits in the summer.

I do remember eating sunny-side up eggs with Pop while he read the newspaper when I was very small, and Sunday trips to Stockholm Inn for Swedish pancakes after church – I didn’t like “Swedos”, and would get eggs or regular pancakes, while being able to eat a Super Stack was a point of pride for my brother.  I remember Pop occasionally making pancakes with chocolate chips or blueberries, and I remember that we had pancake molds in the shape of a dinosaur and a bear.  I remember making eggs when I was very young, cracking an egg into a ramekin, covering it with water and then plastic wrap, and climbing up on the counter so that I could reach the microwave.

As an adult, I’ve enjoyed having breakfast with my parents when I go home for a visit – I’m usually up early, and so can sit at the table and nurse a cup of coffee with them while they listen to the Sunday puzzle before the rest of the house wakes up.  Breakfast this morning – in lieu of a Fathers’ Day brunch – was coffee, French toast made from Zingerman’s challah (not waffleized this time), and sausage links from our pig.  It turns out that Mom really loves French toast but rarely had it when we were kids because none of us were huge fans – so I was glad to be able to make a breakfast that was a treat for everyone.  Pop came in from walking the dog just in time for the first slices to come off the griddle, and Shane was just waking up as I put on the last slices.  Despite being half-awake from last night’s drive, I think I managed a decent, if a bit almond-y, breakfast.

0618 Beef-A-Roo

We hit the road for Rockford tonight, where we’ll be spending the weekend visiting my family, meeting our new nephew, and having the last of our wedding receptions.  According to Google Maps, the distance between our house and my parents’ is 320 miles, or an estimated drive of 5:46, with an hour gained by crossing into the central time zone. Tonight, however, it took closer to 7 hours.

First, we hit construction just outside Ann Arbor. Then we hit stand-still traffic that continued past Kalamazoo. THEN the traffic cleared up just in time for a huge storm to break, dramatically reducing visibility and slowing us down to a crawl. The rain let up just outside Indiana, and we had about 90 minutes of smooth, weather and traffic free driving through Chicago – incredible! And THEN, near Marengo, the sky turned black as an apocalyptic storm rolled in with heavy rain and lots of lightning.  With no shelter and our destination less than 20 miles away, we pressed on, in part fueled by our cravings for Beef-a-Roo.

Have I mentioned Beef-a-Roo here before?  If not, I sincerely apologize.  I also sincerely apologize to anyone who lives far from this northern Illinois mecca of fast food, as you’re missing out on something truly special.


Beef-a-Roo is a Rockford institution that has been dishing out quality burgers since 1967.  Each of the nine locations around the Rockford area has its own identity and decor, but all of them serve up killer milkshakes, sandwiches, salads, and fried things.  Despite the titular ‘beef’, Beef-a-Roo is surprisingly vegetarian-friendly.  The Veggie Club may have cemented my love for the chain in the years when I was veg but was dating a dedicated meat eater.

Lunch from Beefaroo
photo by slworking2

Having renounced my veg ways, I now crave the Cilantro Lime Turkey Club – turkey, havarti, veggies, and cilantro-lime mayo on a doughy roll – along with their various chicken sandwiches and, of course, the cheddar fries.  As pictured above, their cheddar fries come in a soft-drink cup, with the distribution of melted cheese basically requiring the use of a fork.  Soooooo good.

Beef-a-Roo doesn’t have the cult following that In-N-Out Burger has, and I really don’t understand why – except that Rockford isn’t quite the destination that California is.  Alas, more Beef-a-Roo for me!  Tonight, having weathered the storm and the too too long drive, I enjoyed every last bite of my Cilantro Lime Turkey Club, and then helped Shane finish his Jamocha shake.  I figure we earned it.

0617 A Convenient Breakdown

IMG_0568, originally uploaded by G3’s Maria.

I ran out of fuel on my moped for the first time this morning. Well, sort of. I was riding down Washington on my way to the office when my moped sputtered to a stop. I hopped off, tried to kick-start it a couple of times, then realized I was probably low on fuel and switched over to reserve.

What does this have to do with food? Well, the same thing happened on my way home from work. I was tired and hungry, having packed a small lunch in anticipation of work donuts that didn’t materialize.  Shane was home and suffering from a caffeine headache.  So when I ran out of fuel right in front of Lab, I took it as a sign that I was meant to have frozen yogurt, and Shane was meant to have coffee.

Lab opened a few months ago in the newly redeveloped McKinley Town Centre on Liberty.  We have both really enjoyed their selection of Intelligentsia coffees served pour-over, but it was stupidly hot today, so I grabbed an iced coffee for Shane, and a coconut frozen yogurt for me, which I ate on the sidewalk while waiting for Shane to come rescue me with the gas can.  With excellent coffee, a rotating line up of froyo flavors, ample seating, and Washtenaw Dairy donuts and other tasty baked goods on offer,  I can see Lab becoming a regular stop for us, and not just when we’re out of gas.