Thursday, August 24, 2006


For the last couple years, we’ve been stopping in Duluth for lunch on our way to the North Woods. This harbor city, which we used to whiz past, is becoming known for independent-minded restauranteurs with a desire to serve simple yet delicious food from seasonal, locally produced ingredients. We ate lunch this year at the Nokomis Restaurant & Bar ( on the scenic stretch of old highway 61 just outside of town. The restaurant occupies what was once a lakeside supper club, and with its large plate-glass windows offers a spectacular view of Lake Superior just across the road.

We started our lunch with a salad of field greens encircled with a long strip of thinly sliced cucumber and topped with roasted tomatoes, thin slices of radishes, white enoki mushrooms, roasted pumpkin seeds, and Maytag blue cheese dressing. For the entrĂ©e, SJG chose a hamburger of grass-fed beef and shredded short ribs on toasted focaccia. I opted for vegetarian fare: slices of toasted ciabatta spread with black olive tapenade and layered with fresh basil, slices of red and yellow tomatoes, and quenelles of ricotta. SJG raved about the molten chocolate cake she chose for dessert, while my warm blackberry-raspberry cobbler brought back memories of my Missouri grandmother’s recipe for a blackberry dessert that was part-cobbler, part-crisp, part-buckle—a recipe I’ve never seen replicated in any cookbook. Below is an approximation of that summer berry recipe.

Missouri Ozarks Blackberry Cobbler

1-1/2 pints blackberries
1/3 cup sugar
3 TB cold water

6 TB unsalted butter (room temperature)
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
½ cup flour
½ cup old-fashioned pearl tapioca
Ground cinnamon (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the berries in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle with the sugar and pour in the water, combing gently with your fingers.
2) Cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Stir in the flour, tapioca, and cinnamon (if using).
3) Sprinkle the topping over the berries. (If you like a lot of topping, as I do, feel free to make more of it. This is up to the individual palate, though it may prolong baking a little.)
4) Bake until done (roughly 20 minutes; check frequently just to be sure).
5) Cool briefly, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Set on the edge of a lake in the northern wilderness, a much-loved cabin is the place we go every summer to recuperate from the year’s frenzy. We bring pillows, our favorite pajamas and fleece socks, piles of books and periodicals, and, above all else, the determination to avoid the urge to do.

This year is no exception. On the long drive north, we discuss whether or not we’ll take naps like we did the year the temperature soared into the nineties every day. At a minimum, we agree, we’ll be certain to put in twelve-hour nights, heading to bed as soon as the sun slips behind the ridge of pines to the west, leaving a rosy glow behind the canopy.

We arrive late, unpack and settle in quickly, and take a brief walk with the resident dog. Then we head to bed, adding a feather quilt to the pile of blankets and opening the windows to let in the pine-scented air. It’s very dark here, with no glow of city lights or flickering of the neighbors’ motion-detector floodlamps, and as we settle under the covers, darkness calls forth the silence of the place. It’s a still night, with no breeze to filter through the leaves, and we lie still, breathing as quietly as possible, listening for any noise that might break the spell.

The silence is stubborn, and though we anticipate a bird’s call or the crunch of a neighbor’s footstep on the gravel pathway, we hear nothing. Tired from the long day’s drive, and eager to stay true to our pledge, we drift to sleep as the three-quarter moon rises high in the black sky above.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Every summer for the last several years, my father and I have made ice cream using the electric ice-cream machine he and my mother bought years ago. One summer they made ice cream every week from whatever fruit was in season at the moment. Their peach ice cream stands out, smooth and delicately flavored, tasting almost exactly like the scent of the fruit itself. This year, my father and I made vanilla lavender ice cream with goats' milk as the dairy base. It brought back memories of the long-ago peach ice cream with its special satisfaction of merging senses.

Vanilla Lavender Ice Cream
Lavender Milk:
1 cup goats' milk
6-8 sprigs fresh lavender

Put the milk and the lavender in a small saucepan over medium heat. Just before it starts boiling, remove from heat, cover, and allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Strain the milk into a small bowl, discard the lavender, and let milk cool for another 10 minutes.

Ice Cream:
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 cups goats' milk (or, half goats' milk/half cows' milk)
lavender milk (see above)
1 cup whipping cream
1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)

1) Put the egg yolks and sugar in a big saucepan. Beat with a whisk until pale yellow.
2) Put 3 cups goats' milk and lavendar milk in another saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half and gently split each half open and add to the milk. Slowly bring just to the boil.
3) Add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk to the egg yolk and sugar mixture, beating constantly. Stir in the remaining milk. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the custard. Stirring the whole time, slowly bring the mixture again just to the boil, at which point it will be smooth and custardlike. (Just under the boil is 180 degrees F, which assures the safety of eating the eggs.)
4) Pour the custard into a chilled bowl and allow to come to room temperature. If a vanilla bean was not used, stir in the vanilla extract. Then place the custard in the freezer for about 30 minutes to make for faster churning.
5) When ready to churn the custard mixture, whip the whipping cream until just under stiff-peak stage and fold into chilled mixture. (This makes for more volume.) Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's directions. Chill in freezer for several hours before serving. Makes about 1 quart of ice cream.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Our neighbors, Peter and Gaye, have two little girls aged nine and three. The other day, Gaye and the girls were in their backyard, and as the four of us talked, the girls climbed and slid across their mother's body as she lounged on the grass. Into my mind sprang the memory of this feline mother and her offspring, who, like Gaye, lay patiently in grasses on another continent while her cubs claimed the maternal body as their own.