26 January 2010


When our white, solid-surface countertop developed massive cracks last year we took our time thinking about what to replace it with. We finally decided on soapstone, and chose a slab after viewing most of the available inventory in the Twin Cities. The installers did a great job and our next tasks were to find new knobs and pulls and to decide on a paint color. The knobs were easy but the right paint color eluded us all through the fall. Last week my wife found the right one and I spent the weekend painting the kitchen. It feels good to be done!

Soapstone is soft but non-porous, and we like its ability to withstand high temperatures. To get a sense of its hardness it’s probably better to think of wood than rock; it scratches easily but the tiny nicks disappear when the surface is oiled, and sometimes as soon as it’s wiped. A tomato, a lemon, a wine spill has no effect on soapstone; anything can rest on soapstone without staining it or penetrating its surface. Our stove isn’t large and I frequently remove the dutch oven or a hot frying pan from a burner and put it on the counter; I like that I don’t have to place it on a trivet.

The kitchen feels comfortable and balanced. The blue-grey on the walls brings out the green undertones in the soapstone, and the maple cabinets look warm in the room’s indirect light. Now that the kitchen is done, I can re-design the gazebo-turned-rabbitry-and-chicken-coop and replace it with a clean, simple structure.

19 January 2010

Radio show

As soon as I started talking on Jessica Paxton's All-Wheel Drive radio show last fall I knew I liked it.  Talking about food on the radio felt as natural as listening to a baseball game on a long June evening.  I like radio because it's just voices and words and sounds.  We are born to talk, and whether we're sitting barefoot and full-bellied around a fire, or talking long into the night around a dinner table - dessert plates scraped clean, wine glasses stained red, and the conversation still moving along - we were born to talk, to eat, to share.  
Well, starting next month I'll be hosting my own show on Northfield, Minnesota's  KYMN 1080 AM.  I love talking into the microphone at a radio station; I don't know if my voice is moving into the emptiness or the fullness of the night. I can imagine a voice rolling across the fields of Minnesota being picked up by a truck that's passing through on a long trip to California, New Mexico, Vermont.  I'm still working with the station owner to find a time slot that works, but we're looking towards a mid-February beginning. 
I'm planning to talk regularly with guests; I am going to interview the widest possible range of people involved in any part of food.  Farmers, butchers, cooks, policy makers, hunters, vegans, gardeners, food bloggers and everyone in between or falling off the edges - I plan on talking with them.  And you. 

07 January 2010

Thirty quarts

We finished the Christmas holiday in the kitchen. Our local orchard remains open until New Year's Eve, and we paid our last visit at about three-thirty on the afternoon of the thirty-first. The snowy parking lot was empty and owner was on the phone when we walked into the storeroom. My son and I made our way into what is usually the refrigerated room, but with outdoor temperatures well below zero, it felt balmy inside. Crates of Haralson, Keepsake, and Regent apples still lined the walls, and it didn't take long for us to fill four twenty-pound bags.
The bags of apples sat in our back hall for a few days, but on Sunday we got to work. And work it was. Instead of taking down the Christmas tree we made applesauce, thirty quarts of cooked, mushed and canned apples to eat during the coming months. We made almost twenty quarts earlier in the fall, and although we had already eaten (and given away) a few jars, when the last counter was wiped clean at the end of the day we had more than forty quarts of applesauce in the fruit cellar. But, it was an all-day-and-into-the-night affair, the last day of vacation spent coring apples, cutting them into quarters, cooking them in a big pot, pushing sauce through a chinois and reducing all the work to a handful of peels that wouldn't fit through the holes. A few jars broke in the water bath and I had to run a strainer through the water to remove the suspended sauce. All afternoon we kept the huge canning pot filled with water, topping it off when evaporation exacted its toll.
"Was it worth it?" my wife asked when everything was done and the kitchen restored to its non-industrial, ready-for-school-and-cereal-and-toast-and-lots-of-lunches-to-be-made-the-next-morning condition, and I wiped the floors with vinegar and water to remove the hunks and drips and gobs of cored, smushed, cooked apple that would have otherwise been ground in and sticky, and I replied, "Yes," because we won't buy a single jar of applesauce this year, and all our applesauce comes from a single-source orchard about four miles from our home, and I know the blend of apples that we used to make the sauce, and each time a lid is popped we know we're in for a treat. Yes, it was work and it took time. Yes, I scraped my knuckles running the cherry-wood pestle around and around the stainless steel chinois, and yes, I did more of it alone than I wanted to. And yes, too, to our remembory of making applesauce in years past and opening a jar for a pork chop dinner or a PB&J lunch, to reminding ourselves and our children that the farmers and workers who make our food work hard, to being mighty thankful that we live in a bountiful, apple-rich state (even if it isn't beautiful western New York) and finally, yes to the unsurpassed quality, texture, color and taste of home-canned applesauce, which will, for the entirety of this year, run thick in our veins.