John and I spent the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday in an unusually quiet fashion last year due to COVID-19. I still cooked the full dinner, because to me the Thanksgiving meal is about sharing love & gratitude, and I wasn’t going to let the coronavirus get in the way of that. We pivoted from our usual celebration and made doorstep deliveries of all the bountiful fixings. There were a few tears, a multitude of air hugs and kisses blown from a distance, and then we made our way back home on eerily quiet highways to a dining table set for two, instead of 20. This year we will be wading gently back into the hosting pool. We are having a small gathering and we’ll be taking safety precautions, because as we know, the pandemic is not over yet.
I’ve got many tried and true Thanksgiving recipes in my file, dishes that have made their expected appearance on the table, year after year. 2021 seems like a marvelous time to set the stage for the addition of some fresh arrivals. I’ve been writing and testing a few “new to me” dishes this week and will be sharing some of them in the upcoming days. The first of these is Delicata squash with maple syrup and bacon served on a bed of arugula and topped with herbed goat cheese. Read on for the recipe.
Continue reading Harvest Recipe: Roasted Delicata Squash with Bacon, Local Maple Syrup and Goat Cheese
“Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we eat well” ~ Michael Pollan
We just wrapped up Farmers Market Week in Minnesota. While the markets happen year round, these seven days are designated annually as a time to highlight the numerous impacts that our farmers markets, and the farmers that source to them have on our communities. The markets are bustling gathering places where consumers go to connect with growers over the beauty and importance of local food. There is a unique grace about these interactions that rarely occurs in any other venue. The farmers markets are places we visit to nourish our minds, senses and bodies.
Read more for a photographic journey of some of the vibrant dishes I’ve created recently using fresh farmers market produce.
Continue reading FARMERS MARKET MEALS AND THE COMMUNITY OF FOOD
“The greatest lesson came with the realization that food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it” ~ Chef Dan Barber
Sultry summer winds carried the enticing aroma of local ingredients cooking over an open fire, while guests who share a mutual appreciation for sustainable food sourced close-by, strolled around the vast property before sitting down to enjoy a much anticipated dinner together. This is the type of event that I daydream about during the brisk Minnesota winters. Last month we attended our first farm dinner of 2021 at Iron Shoe Farm in Princeton. Carla Mertz, owner and operator of the farm is known for raising her animals ethically and for her firm commitment to sustainable agriculture. Her partnerships with nearby farmers and chefs are numerous and highly regarded. These farm dinners are a way to showcase fresh, locally grown ingredients through the creation of innovative and flavor-filled dishes. Carla’s association with local chefs, Minnesota Cooks and the Minnesota Farmers Union are the types of farm to fork relationships that give prominence to the essential nature of our local food community.
Continue reading FOOD AND WINE ON THE FARM: A SUSTAINABLE MINNESOTA DINING EXPERIENCE
“Food is about making an interaction with ingredients. If you talk to them they will always tell you a story” ~ Chef José Andrés
This food story begins with a Saturday trip to the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis. I made my first visit of the spring season yesterday. The farmers market is an immersive experience for me and it was exciting to feel the energy of that environment again. Ingredients have a history and it’s wonderful to interact face to face with farmers and purveyors, and to hear them describe the essence of the flavors and origins of their products. There is an ambiance about it that is like no other.
The recipe I am sharing today is composed of all items purchased at the market. Read on for more.
Continue reading Farm To Plate Recipe: Sustainable Sunday Brunch Made With A Farmers Market Bounty
“You can’t have a serious conversation about food without talking about human rights, climate change, and social justice. Food not only affects everything, it represents everything” ~ Mark Bittman
Happy Earth Day 2021! I am continually inspired by the passion and hard work that our farmers and so many in the generous food and beverage industry are doing to uplift our communities and make this world a better place.
Continue reading Earth Day 2021: Food For Thought
I have recently started sharing a weekly sustainable Sunday post via my Facebook and Instagram pages. This is central to my mission to bring more attention to the subject of sustainability and the importance of acquainting ourselves with our essential Minnesota farmers and the local food journey from farm to plate. The goal of these posts is to regularly introduce readers to dishes that I create using locally grown, sustainably sourced products and/or ingredients, or restaurant meals that follow the same guidelines. I am looking forward to integrating the Sustainable Sunday feature as a continuous addition to the The Empty Nesters Kitchen Blog.
Continue reading Kernza® whole grain salad with roasted butternut squash, bacon, crumbled goat cheese, fresh arugula and pomegranate seeds
“I was not a farmer by trade, but it’s in my blood” ~Carla Mertz
It has been my goal over the last two years to connect shoppers/diners/home cooks with the origin of their ingredients through my writing. I feel that documenting the journey from farm to plate is important and it is why I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to share the stories of local farmers like Carla Mertz, Owner of Iron Shoe Farm in Princeton, MN. What follows is a meaningful narrative of hard work, dedication and resiliency. One where farmers like Carla have had to cultivate alternate methods of reaching out to buyers during the chaos of a pandemic while continuing to maintain their busy day to day farm schedules. Online ordering and a new mobile pantry are just a couple of the innovative ways she has been marketing her products (and the products of other purveyors as well) during this time. She communicated that while farming during COVID-19 has been quite a shift, it has also brought with it the opportunity to shine a light on the crucial aspect of sourcing food locally and the importance of looking out for each other.
Carla is staying focused on the positive. Her strong sense of responsibility and the aspiration to do good starts on her her farm, with her family and extends to the broader food community. She is extremely knowledgeable about the importance of sustainable agriculture and its relationship to the production of healthy, well-bred animals. She is an advocate for other Minnesota farmers and businesses. Partnerships are important, especially now. If she doesn’t have something that a restaurateur or customer is looking for, she doesn’t hesitate to connect them with someone who does. This is the just one example of the helpful collaborations that are taking place.
This focus on connection has its rewards. It has been well received by some chefs/buyers in the twin cities because they’ve learned that they can use Carla as a distributor. It’s also been a wake up call for us as consumers, who have seen empty grocery store shelves during this pandemic. We have become keenly aware that farmers are not just on the periphery of things, they are a bright light on the horizon during an unprecedented time. They are absolutely indispensable.
Continue reading Farm to table sustainability stories: Iron shoe Farm in Princeton,MN
“Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people” ~ Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Bushel Boy Farms is at the forefront of innovative indoor agriculture and has been “extending Minnesota’s growing season” for the past 30 years. Jay Johnson launched this business in Owatonna, Minnesota in 1990. Mr. Johnson began growing high quality tomatoes in his backyard and offering them to locals. As the demand for his distinctive tomatoes grew, he started selling them via food stands and to grocery stores in town. Bushel Boy amassed a large following and began building green houses in order to expand the thriving business. In 2018, Bushel Boy Farms was acquired by another Minnesota company, Shakopee-based Rahr Corporation. Rahr has provided the support to expand the assortment within the tomato category, but also look beyond tomatoes. Their drive to build off the rich history of growing premium quality tomatoes, along with the dedication to continue to innovate, has led to perhaps the most exciting 18 months in the company’s history. What follows is the story of how Bushel Boy Farms came to be one of the most well known and respected produce companies in MN.
Continue reading Bushel Boy Farms: A Minnesota Story Of Sustainable Agricultural Innovation
“For my whole life, all I’ve wanted is to do good” ~ Chef Danielle Leoni
On a recent trip to Arizona, Executive Chef and Co-owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, Danielle Leoni gave me the gift of her time, which happens to be in short supply these days. We conversed about what launched her path as a chef activist and restaurant owner, as well as the innumerable innovative impacts that she has been making in the world of food. In particular, her support of local agriculture, school nutrition issues, responsible sourcing of sustainable seafood and her newest business venture, Big Marble Organic Ginger Beer. She exemplifies what it means to have a full plate. Continue reading Chef Danielle Leoni: Global Sustainability Activist and Conduit for Change
“I do think this next century, hopefully, will be about a more global view. Where you don’t just think, yes my country is doing well, but you think about the world at large” ~Bill Gates
I embrace the opportunity to share stories of local people who are inspiring global change. I made John Paye’s acquaintance while touring the HAFA Farm in Vermillion, MN in the Fall of 2018. I was in the initial stages of gathering information for my farm to fork sustainability series. My articles feature farmers and the restaurateurs/chefs/businesses that source from them. John was there to gain knowledge regarding how to give life to a project similar to the one HAFA has created in Minnesota. John’s farm is in Bong County, Liberia which is located on the West African Coast. I recently met with John again to learn about the progress of The Liberian Agricultural Project . I hope you are as moved by his work as I am.
Continue reading The Liberian Agricultural Project