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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.
Any other time, I wouldn't give a second glance to a recipe for celery soup. I use celery when I make a pot of stock, and sometimes I add it to salads and slaws. It goes into mirepoix to use as a flavorful base for sauces, soups and stews. But unless its ribs are filled with peanut butter and dotted with soft raisins, I ignore celery. I read an article the other day about the results of an online audience poll that San Francisco's Bi-Rite Market conducted. In an effort to help their customers cut down on food waste, they asked them what food they wasted most.
I watched intently as Katie Novotny, owner of St. Paul Classic Cookie Co., dumped dry ingredients into a large metal mixing bowl. She used a knife to slash chunks of chilled butter into the same bowl. It seemed making perfect scones would be quite simple. Novotny had graciously agreed to share some of her baking expertise with our group of seven food-and-fun-loving females in her small shop on Territorial Road in St. Paul. After running her bakery in the skyway in downtown St. Paul for 3½ years, she moved to her current location and opened up shop in January 2010.
When the guy at the checkout asked me if asparagus could hold up to freezing temperatures, I thought he was referring to a malfunctioning refrigerator. Then, he put his hands in the air, layering them 4 or 5 inches apart. "My asparagus is about this big already," he said. "It's supposed to get down into the 20s tonight. I'm worried about the asparagus." I couldn't give him an answer about how overnight freezing temperatures would affect young asparagus shoots.