Archive for May, 2012

National Vegetarian Week

A small sampling

Balsamic and rice wine and cider oh my!

There are two things you have to learn to love when you marry a German; cabbage and vinegar.  In my pre-Frau life I thought cabbage was just something you put in coleslaw, and ate infrequently in small portions.  And vinegar… that was what you used to dye Easter eggs and clean your coffee pot.  I’m proud to say that six years later I have a much more discerning palate.

One of the things I love about living in Minnesota, and especially in Duluth, is summer produce.  Yes, we have long, brutal winters often followed by especially hot and humid summers.  But those extremes are what make us feel hearty; the select group tough enough to live here year round.  And one of the best rewards is those fresh fruits and vegetables grown here and sold in grocery stores, roadside stands, and the local co-op.  Our Whole Foods Co-Op in Duluth is very well known for having terrific fresh foods and a whole lot more.  And who can forget about the seasonal Farmers’ Market in the Central Hillside?  This group of local farmers and artisans has amazing stuff, from the freshest vegetables to Miel Honey, the best honey I’ve ever had, and it’s made by local bees.

So, in honor of National Vegetarian Week and Memorial Day (the unofficial start of summer “up north”), I am posting one of my favorite salad recipes.  It has the two key ingredients that make for a delicious, low-cal, German-leaning meal; cabbage and vinegar.  If going meatless isn’t really your deal, this salad works great with some chicken breast strips.  Or stay vegetarian and add a nice piece of fish.  It doesn’t get much better than a freshly caught walleye fillet!  Even my red-meat-loving-100% German husband likes this salad.  It must be the vinegar.

Spinach and Cashew Salad

In a large bowl combine:

3 T Teriyaki marinade (I use Lawry’s)

3 T vegetable oil

2 T sugar

2 T red wine vinegar

Fresh ground pepper to taste

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp onion powder

Whisk well.  When combined, add:

½ bag cabbage/carrot coleslaw mix (or about 5 oz fresh shredded cabbage with one shredded carrot)

½ bag spinach (or about 5 oz fresh)

1 small bunch fine chopped green onion

½ C cashew halves

Toss all to combine.  Can be sprinkled with shredded parmesan and/or asiago cheese.

**Stay tuned for next week’s Friday post.  We will have a guest post from my favorite photographers across the bridge in Superior, WI, 4 Winds Photography.  You can sneak a preview of their work at their website.  These folks are not just ‘picture-takers’!  They have an unbelievable, award-winning vision.  Enjoy!

Embracing My Right Brain

Work area in the North Office

When I was growing up and in my early working years, I always wanted to be thought of as a left-brainer.  You know, one of those logical, pragmatic people that others seek out for input.  Now that I’m older, I am embracing my right-brain personality.  I have thrown caution to the wind, and even been called silly a time or two.  I have finally discovered who I really am, what fuels me, and how I function best.  My extremely left-brained husband often just looks at me and scratches his head.  It’s hard for him to understand that I think and learn in a different way than he does.  Since he’s my boss, I’m lucky that he is patient and has given me the space I need to get my work done.

Some people give me a hard time about my schedule.  Our business, Fresh Air Lodging, is run out of an office in our home.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  There are days that I am just not feeling the marketing and social media vibe, which is bad since that’s my job.  But then there are other times when I am pretty sure I am an online marketing rock star who cannot be controlled by something as absurd as a clock, even though it’s nearing midnight.  I do not have the capability to just shut down my brain because it’s not during normal business hours.  Who decided what was normal?  I do some of my best work at 7:00 AM in my jams and fuzzy slippers.

Thankfully Fresh Air Lodging embraces the philosophy of work/life flex-time scheduling.  I know that if I am “just not feelin’ it” that day, it’s a waste of my time and the company’s to sit at my desk and stare out the window.  But if I have a creativity break through at eight in the evening while watching TV, I’m going to walk back through that office door and get clicking on the keyboard.  In fact, most of my work is done away from my desk with the use of my smart phone, trusty Acer tablet or old fashioned legal pad.  I guess that is the curse of the imaginative.

When those moments of brain freeze occur, and they definitely occur, I turn to my favorite muse—outside.  Wednesday, as I grappled with a topic for this week’s blog post, I stepped out to ‘The North Office’, also known as the backyard swing.  It didn’t take long before I had removed my hoodie, shoes, and socks and stretched out to feel the sun on my face.  I looked up at the top of a big tree and contemplated the complete lack of clouds in the sky.  I could hear the birds and the children at the park across the street.  Even the light traffic was less annoying in the bright afternoon sun.  I grabbed my ever-present notepad and began to scribble.  I write as fast as I can, trying to keep up with all of the things swirling through my head.  Spelling, grammar, legibility, all out the window.  The theory here is get as much down as possible before you lose the speeding train of thought.  After all, another idea is just down the track.

It may have taken me a few decades, but I have come to terms with the fact that I am right-brained.  I have a million inspirations constantly swirling in my head, though most will never come to fruition.  I know that my place is not at a desk in a sterile cubicle.  It is nestled amongst my piles in my office, looking out the window at the birds making a nest in a tree two feet away.  It is relaxing on my patio swing, or improving my golf swing.  I am not to be confined by conventional schedules.  I am easily distracted, and I love that.  But because of work/life flex-time, I am productive and I love my job.  Oh look, Jeopardy’s on!

Fish and Games

We’ve been watching more TV than normal in our house.  It’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, and because we live in Minnesota, we love hockey.  It’s a lot of fun to watch, but I have to admit I’m looking forward to this weekend and the opening of walleye fishing on Minnesota lakes.  It will be a trip to my brother-in-law’s cabin, a whole lot of fishing, cards and games, and TV-free.

If you don’t fish or live in Minnesota, it may be difficult to understand what all the hoopla is about.  So you can angle for a particular species of fish, big deal.  Ahh, but it IS a big deal!  Walleye are the filet mignon of freshwater fish.  We love to catch them and we especially love to eat them.  Somehow we have even managed to get a non-fish-eating daughter to try it and like it.  Maybe it’s because she also takes a liking to reeling in a big wet and wild fighter.  Knowing that it could be her catch we’re eating adds a certain sense of accomplishment.

But this weekend isn’t all about fun.  We’ve spent the past week preparing for our trip.  My husband had to undo the winterizing on the boat and get that all cleaned up.  That means also checking the life jackets, tightening seats and windows, and whatever general maintenance needs to be done.  Mike has had “The African Queen” for many years, and she’s been a very good boat for us.  The old Alumacraft isn’t exactly fancy, but she is made right here in Minnesota and we love that.

Another of Mike’s duties is gathering all the fishing gear.  We had a small mishap in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness last summer when we were camping.  One of the kids lost a rod and reel in the lake.  When you’re in twenty or thirty feet of water in a canoe, you’re probably not going to jump in after it!  So off to Gander Mountain went Mike for a replacement, licenses, more hooks, and various accompaniments.  Now we are ready for another year of catching.

What were my duties during all of this?   Communications, of course.  My sister in law and I have coordinated the meals for the weekend.  We have menus, shopping lists, and know who is bringing what right down to the carmel puffcorn and cookies.  Thankfully Cub Foods had good sales this week and no one will go hungry for sure!  I have cooked, baked, and bagged-up everything on our end in preparation.  Now we are ready for three days of relaxing and drifting.

As the music floats from boat to boat in our “Redneck Yacht Club”, we will be anticipating many more weekends such as this.  Thankfully in Minnesota we are home to businesses like Alumacraft, Gander Mountain, and Cub Foods.  Knowing that I’m supporting my neighbors makes me feel good; and I patronize them as often as I can.  It makes planning and enjoying our Midwestern summers much easier.  Now if I could just find a way to catch that NHL game seven on Saturday night…

Mentoring Against Obesity

My daughter’s friend visits our home regularly.  Her parents both work outside the home, which is quite common these days.  Since I have known this girl most of her life, she is very comfortable walking into our kitchen, pulling a stool up to the island where I’m cooking, and asking what’s for supper.  We banter back and forth about what the original recipe was (I can never follow directions!) and what I’m doing to it.  We then proceed to have “Cooking Show”.

Since my husband and I have an in-home office, we are free to make our schedules work around our family time.  We both had decades in the hospitality business where we were on call 24-7, and I’ve got to tell you, this change rocks!  Instead of skipping breakfast, my kids get wakie wakie, eggs and bakie (that would be wake up, eggs and bacon) or whatever they choose for breakfast that day.  Spoiled?  Maybe, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We take lunch from home, and we eat dinner together as a family at the dining room table.  Every day, period.

Now, I know that my world may be a little Pollyanna for some folks.  And that’s okay.  But I’m involved in my children’s lives enough to see that they are given options and the sense to choose wisely amongst them.  Unfortunately that is not the case for all children.  I know a child who used to eat cold spaghetti from a can because his mother not only didn’t cook, she didn’t even own pots and pans.  Where are these kids supposed to get the knowledge to function as healthy adults?

This is where we can all help.  Many people blame the childhood obesity epidemic on the food industry and increased advertising of less-than-healthy foods aimed at children (great read on this at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/school-breakfast-the-new-food-fight/).  I don’t know about you, but I remember a fair amount of commercials during my Saturday morning cartoons.  Don’t the parents still do the grocery shopping and have the power to say no?  I do not believe increased advertising is the cause of obesity.  I also don’t think you have to strictly forbid “bad” foods.  It’s really all about the choices.

When I was growing up I had a couple of friends who were not allowed to eat sugary cereal or sweets.  The first thing they did when out of their parents’ site was to gorge on every morsel of baked goods they could get their hands on.  Instead of banning those types of foods, their parents should have limited the availability and used it as a teaching tool.  I had old-school Finnish farmers for parents.  You never had to look hard to find cakes, cookies, and all kinds of sweets in my house.  But since they were always there, it wasn’t a big deal for me, and I didn’t eat them in excess.  Today I still have that theory.

What are my suggestions to combat childhood obesity?  They’re pretty simple.

  • First, have your children help you plan a menu for the week that is nutritious and realistic in available time and cooking ability.  Look at magazines or online recipe websites/blogs for ideas.
  • Second, take your children to the store.  That’s right, BRING THEM WITH YOU.  You should spend most of your time along the edges of the store—where the majority of the produce and non-packaged goods are.  Teach them how to read labels, select fruits and vegetables and discuss different ways to prepare them.  Nowadays there’s no excuse like “I don’t know how to…”  You can find anything online.  I even saw a tweet from Iron Chef Mario Batali responding to a question of how to cook asparagus!
  • Portion out large purchases of “treats” to avoid overeating.  If you sit down with a big bag of chips, you’ll eat more.  Teach your children what true portion sizes look like.  If you are unsure, look it up!
  • Cook with your children.  There are tasks that even very young children can do to help in the kitchen.
  • Lastly, power down and get moving!  Make sure that you and your children have 30-60 minutes of activity most days of the week.  Even a couple of ten minute walks a day have shown to be beneficial in adults, you don’t have to run marathons.

I hope that this has inspired you to get in touch with your inner chef.  You don’t have to prepare big or fancy meals, just cook something.  And whether it’s your own child, a relative, or a neighborhood kid, teach them.  Mentoring is the socially responsible thing to do.  Besides, you’ll be amazed how fun “Cooking Show” can be in your own kitchen.