Rhubarb Sauce


Some families consider asparagus or morel mushrooms the first sign of spring, but for us it will always be the tart, crunchy stalks of rhubarb.

I make this sauce every year and put it on everything. Spoon it over ice cream, spread it on top of vanilla cheese cake, stir it into oatmeal or overnight oats or spread it on some toast with ricotta and top with sliced strawberries. If you are looking for a simple, but elegant Mother’s Day dessert use this sauce to create Rhubarb Fool. Fold the sauce into whipped cream, spoon it into a champagne flute, garnish with a sprig of mint, and you’re done! You can find the recipe for the Mother’s Day Dessert at the Omaha Farmer’s Market site, or if you just want the sauce recipe you can find it below.

Rhubarb sauce keeps in the fridge for months, which is just another reason to love it.

Rhubarb Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2lb rhubarb
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 Teaspoons vanilla bean paste

Directions

Toss the rhubarb, sugar, orange juice and vanilla bean paste into a medium sauce pan and set over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the rhubarb begins to fall apart. This should take about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée the rhubarb. The purée is finished when it’s thick enough coat the back of a spoon and maintain a line drawn through it. If it doesn’t hold the line let it simmer for a bit longer. Continue to stir occasionally. If you want a smooth sauce, set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and push the purée through strainer or sieve. If you are happy as it is, simply transfer the sauce to a container, cover it and keep it in the fridge for up to a month to use as you see fit. You should have a about 4 cups of sauce.

I wrote the following post 18 months ago, and never published it. Now that I’m nearing the end of an extensive PR campaign for New Prairie Kitchen, I feel the need to publish it. I hope you don’t mind the delay.

Today is my first official book signing. This is the part of the book I never thought about. It’s the part where I feel terribly exposed and incredibly grateful, and in awe of everyone who helped New Prairie Kitchen​ come to life. I know it’s one book. Some people will like it, some will not. Some will champion it and others will push it to the side. I know this. I also know a cookbook is not curing cancer or part of some scientific breakthrough, but it’s my contribution to this place.

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If we believe that personal interests are really gifts —  road maps to who we are intended to be, as I do, then its our duty to foster those gifts not only in ourselves but also in others. I feel the love and support of so many people right now that my joy is palpable. Not because a project that lived in my head for years finally exists and I can touch it, and share it, but because of the character I had to develop through the process.

New Prairie Kitchen gave me a good lesson in persistence, trust, love, leadership and humility. Through it, I have divorced so many of my former selves, not the least of which was a doubting, pessimistic insecure dolt that showed up about the age of 30. I’m amazed anyone tolerated that version of me at all, and I’m thankful to be rid of her.

Unfortunately, for my children, specifically my son, that version of me was his first mother. I distinctly remember thinking, I don’t how to guide him because I don’t know what guides me. At the age of 30 I took a risk and quit my job to attend NYU’s Publishing Institute, then in the weeks before my planned departure I hurt my back. Many doctors visits and drugs led to a final decision of surgery and bed rest. Rather than attending class on a Monday in June, I walked into a surgical clinic.

When I hurt my back and all of my carefully constructed plans landed in one defeated pile at my feet. Rather than continuing my path as a writer in New York City, I found myself unemployed, with a body at odds with itself and me entering the transformative upheaval known as motherhood. I fell hard and fast for years. I didn’t see the path, but worse, I stopped believing there was one.

Then I wrote a story or two about some chefs, then a farmer and an artisan. Some, like the cheese makers, were trying to revive a dairy industry who many thought was all but dead. Others were launching restaurants with young wives and new babies giving it every hour they had with the hope that the time to play would come later. I rose and brushed myself off a bit every time they trusted me with their stories and shared their vulnerabilities. They reminded me that jumping is always worth the risk even if you don’t land on your feet at first.

 

Home Food


I am not one who believes food is medicine, or art for that matter. I do not think it will cure me. I do not think it’s value should be elevated above those who sit with me at the table. I do think think food will nourish me and nurture me and support me through that which may I may suffer. It will serve as my excuse to meet with those whose company I enjoy. I feel like that is enough to ask of an eggplant or a lettuce leaf or parsnip plucked from the ground.

 

It’s a tricky little world to write about that which feeds us. I’ve often wondered why it matters and tried to mull through the conversations about food I’ve been having lately. Some feel we should push the envelope. Others that we should do everything we can to make food simple, and offer it free of intimidation. I agree with that too.

I was recently asked about how I became a foodie. Admittedly, I bristle at the notion. Personally, I am firmly placed in the unfoodie camp. Most of what I make at home is quite simple. I call it home food. Sometimes if I’m feeling poetic, and maybe even a bit sexist, I call it the food of women. I know men cook. I know men cook at home, but I am a woman and I’ve been thinking lately about the food we’ve made at home for centuries. For me, I try to make things that require as little effort on my part as humanly possible, and can be handled by my young children. While I admire modern gastronomy and its variations on foam and smoke, and food towers teetering in the middle of my plate, it’s not what we eat at home; and I’m deeply interested in what we feed our families. I fear home food is being entirely replaced by restaurant meals, microwave dinners and fast food. It’s not that those things aren’t relevant, but everything has a place. Home food represents a connection that doesn’t come in a takeout container. It’s is a craft worth preserving if not for the sake of our families then for the sake of ourselves.

Sweet Corn and Goat Cheese Quiche

Ingredients

  • 1 Pie Crust
  • 4 Large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 Cup onion (minced)
  • 1/2 Cup sweet corn (cut from the cob, but frozen will do)
  • 4 Ounces goat cheese, chevre (crumbled)
  • 1 or 2 Pinches white pepper
  • 1/4 Tsp salt
  • chives (enough to add some color)

Directions

Set oven to 375.
Press pie crust into the pan and make the edges fancy or don't. Quiche tastes good with or without fancy edges. If you are using a homemade crust, crumple up a piece of parchment then smooth it out again. Lay it on top of the crust and pour some dried beans onto the parchment. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes.
Once the crust is finished, let it cool a bit and remove the beans and parchment.
In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, milk, half and half, pepper and salt. Sprinkle onions, crumble the cheese and snip the chives onto the pie crust. Pour in the liquid. Bake for 40 minutes. The center will be set, but a still have a bit of a wiggle. The top should be golden. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

Growing Up


I live in an old, tiny house. We sleep in strange rooms of ill fitted sizes. We tiptoe through the night or lie in bed holding our breath because one misstep on a creaky floorboard will do us in and wake the children. Every parent knows you do not wake the children.

 

5:30 a.m. Writing session sabotaged by two early birds.

5:30 a.m. writing session sabotaged by two early birds and a toy cat.

 

For many years, New Prairie Kitchen was written in strange places, not the least of which was a cubbyhole in a wall next to the washing machine. So, in that dank little space I wrote myself a note. A reminder that my children are the only part of my life in the fast lane. They will grow before I notice the plant in the kitchen has gone without water for too long, or that I forgot to workout for so many years that my opportunity to claim anything as baby fat has long since passed me by. I wrote myself the note, so I could give myself permission to go slowly. To watch my children, and, accidentally, myself grow up.

In the midst of all of this life, a little book was written, an author was created, but more importantly an adult was made. I was reminded of this on Sunday night when I ran into two acquaintances who later became friends. We first met at an Outstanding in the Field farm-to-table dinner hosted at Branched Oak Farm. It’s a lovely place owned and operated by the husband and wife team, Doug and Krista Dittman. They feed cows and make cheese, but they also support, guide and nurture other dairy farmers in the region. At this dinner two years ago, I met a couple who had recently left the coast and moved to Omaha. They came to support one of their children, and stayed because they fell in love with the culture, community, and food scene in Omaha. I would dare say they’ve become Omaha’s greatest ambassadors.

When I first met them, I was feeling a bit like a kept woman. I was in the throws of trying to carve out some kind of a career while potty training a two year old, learning how to parent a strong-willed four year old and feeling a bit bogged down by the commotion of it all. One glass of wine in and I discovered a good listener in my new found, recently adopted Midwesterner at the dinner table. I could try to make myself look good by saying I vented a bit about motherhood, but the truth is I complained. I felt stunted even with my note telling me to be patient. What I really needed was a note telling me to get over myself. I felt frustrated, and I blamed my children for that, not my own bad attitude. I’ve looked back at that dinner with remorse, not because I cornered some unsuspecting couple, which is bad enough, but because I didn’t look inward long enough to realize I was throwing myself a pity party and it had nothing to do with my children. Believe it or not the couple didn’t run and hide. We stayed in contact and have become friends. She’s a mother too, although her children are grown now, and was kind enough to empathize with my stage in life at the time.

Fast forward two years to Sunday night when we all attended a fundraiser for the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. We had drinks in hand, and they asked about the children. I said I’ve enjoyed this stage of parenting much more than the early years and actually have quite a bit of fun with the kids these days. She said, “Yes, children have a way of growing us up, don’t they?”

They certainly do.

That night I returned home, my kids and husband were sound asleep, and walked across our old and aching floors, grateful for life lessons, friends and renewed perspective.

 

 

Like bumblebees we are a social. We need each other to build restaurants, write books, and care for families. We move in, and almost instinctively, come together, assume roles and build.

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As much as I want to preserve the open spaces where I have spent most of my adult life, I am also happy the city has moved in a bit closer to me. I am a city girl at heart and moving to the country for the love of my husband took a bit of adjusting. I am not accustomed to so much distance between places. City girls, even if they are from small, up and coming cities, are used to a certain amount of busyness that comes with proximity to movement — cars traveling to one place or another, neighbors going in and out of doors and accessibility to 20 places in the matter of a day. The stillness of the country can be unsettling to newcomers.

I have spent nearly a decade surrounded by fields rather than houses. A gravel road leads me home and springtime winds are often harsh and crushing in a place such as this where there is nothing to stop it. I keep the windows closed on days that may be beautiful, but too dry, for fear that a thin layer of road dust will find its way into my kitchen cupboards and coat my dinner plates. Learning to find comfort in the stillness of things, to make peace with the wind and dust came with time.

Our first year here was terribly dry and the grasshoppers had their way with home and land alike. Munching plants and screen doors, and hopping their way across my path just to let me know I didn’t belong. I hated them. They interfered with my desire for order and clean lines. They are like antagonistic humans who jump out to startle you each time you pass an open doorway. I hated them the most for that. Never knowing when their crunchy bodies would flutter out at me, and bounce off my leg, or worse yet, stay there. I still hate them, but like a recovering codependent learning to love a drunk, I’ve decided not to let it bother me and get along with my business. I’ve shown them the garden will grow, the screens will be replaced, and best of all, their jumping no longer makes me flinch. I feel that way about life as well, and all the joy and sadness that comes with the territory.

If grasshoppers are the dastardly neighbors everyone hates to have, bees are the neighbors from down road who show up with cake and sweet tea while you figure out life, then quietly go away and allow your friendship to develop slowly over time. We have tiny sweat bees, honey bees, and other bee like insects, but I love the big, fat and furry bumblebees most of all. I think of their buzz while whooshing by my ear as a courtesy, like a cyclist announcing his approach, “On your left!” I look up to see where my bi-colored friend is off too, then go back to trimming zinnias, clipping roses or yelling for my children who are inevitably doing something perilous and terrifying to me.

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As spring went on its way and summer tumbled into its place, I spent most of my days revising stories, reviewing images, and organizing the pages of, my book, New Prairie Kitchen. I have also longed for the rhubarb and the time spring gave me with my son. Little more than six months ago he hopped out of my car and walked into kindergarten wearing his brand new running shoes tied with his own two hands. There was a time when he was a screaming, colicky baby and I walked the halls for hours trying to calm us both down. That was when his school days seemed so far away, and now, those first day jitters have come and gone like spring.

Somehow and seemingly without warning my tomato plants that spent the summer feeding the deer decided to wither and die with the first touch of frost. I can’t say I blame them, I was equally ready for the reprieve that fall brings — warming spices and squash, apple cider and oatmeal.

Now winter has forced its way here just as the book has entered its final stages. The manuscript was sent to the printer on Friday and the cover jacket was tweaked and fine-tuned then sent chasing after its insides across an ocean. It will come back this way in the spring when the bees will once again vanish into the cups of balloon flowers, and the mouths of snapdragons, and I will stifle my own first day jitters signing books and celebrating those who supported me through the process.

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