Getting a Little La Fresca

A really great restaurant can transport you somewhere else and that’s just what happened when we went to La Fresca for dinner. Located in south Minneapolis, this is the newest restaurant from chef Hector Ruiz and is described as “nouveau Mexican cuisine.” What exactly does that mean? Well, our server Boris could be heard telling tables throughout the room (ours included), “It’s Mexican food with a French twist.”

While we sat in the small, cheery dining room, Boris guided us through a delicious assortment of dishes. And the man knew exactly what he was talking about. He told us that the guacamole was best in the city and the verdict after my first bite? It was. It’s not my finest moment, but I tried subtly moving it closer to my side of the table with the hope The Husband would forget about it so I wouldn’t have to share:

GUACAMOLE: Fresh avocados, red onion, cilantro, vine ripe tomatoes, roasted tomatillo sauce, lime, citron oil, sea salt, cilantro-chile de arbol oil (vegetarian)

GUACAMOLE: Fresh avocados, red onion, cilantro, vine ripe tomatoes, roasted tomatillo sauce, lime, citron oil, sea salt, cilantro-chile de arbol oil (vegetarian)

There were no vegetarian options on the “terceros” section of the menu, but there were a few options in the “primeros” (small plates) and “secondaros” (salads). If every corn tortilla tasted like the homemade “corn tortilla boat” in their sopes, that would be all I ate. Far from the thin, dry store-bought corn tortilla, these were moist and tender:

SOPES: Homemade corn tortilla boat, roasted poblano peppers, onion confit, crema casera, frijoles colados (vegetarian)

SOPES: Homemade corn tortilla boat, roasted poblano peppers, onion confit, crema casera, frijoles colados (vegetarian)

Boris recommended the Frida salad, and it was as light and fresh as he said it would be. I was surprised to find in sprinkled with sea salt, even more surprised that I liked it. One of my favorite aspects of this salad was that the honey-chipotle chevre fondue was on the bottom. It really complimented the salad, not overwhelming it or adding heaviness:

FRIDA: Red wine braised pears, roasted beets, arugula, baby spinach, toasted almond, fennel, apple, honey-chipotle chevre fondue (vegetarian)

FRIDA: Red wine braised pears, roasted beets, arugula, baby spinach, toasted almond, fennel, apple, honey-chipotle chevre fondue (vegetarian)

The Husband was having problems making up his mind but Boris sold him on the Carne Asada. I watched him take his first bite and saw his eyes roll in what I can only describe as ecstasy:

CARNE ASADA: Serrano pepper marinated flank steak, beans borrachos, cambray onion confit, asparagus, chorizo, fried shallots (medium rare)

CARNE ASADA: Serrano pepper marinated flank steak, beans borrachos, cambray onion confit, asparagus, chorizo, fried shallots (medium rare)

I’m disappointed that we were both too full to try dessert but look forward to going back. If you need to transport yourself somewhere else for an evening, consider a little nouveau Mexican. Just make sure to save room for dessert and let me know how it is!

Down by The River

The beautiful weather had us back at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge over the weekend. With 11,012 acres to explore, we expect to spend a lot of time there in the months to come. I was surprised to learn that this is one of only four American national wildlife refuges in an urban area. It’s also the largest, with eight protected areas over 34 miles along the Minnesota River. It’s amazing to have spaces like this only 10 minutes from our house in Minneapolis.

This raised footbridge takes you to a viewing platform on the Minnesota River:

We saw our first Cedar Waxwings while we were out. And this little bird seemed to have an entire stretch of the river to himself. We guessed that it was an Eastern Phoebe. Can anyone confirm?

And I couldn’t resist the cattails:

The national wildlife refuge is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the state recreation area by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

It’s all about having a great recipe. Unfortunately, I don’t have one for you.

During an ideal week, I like to plan out my menus. On a typical Sunday before we go to the grocery store, I make a list of dinners we’ll have, the groceries that we’ll need, and then we hit the store to do our shopping. This is a great help for those days when you stagger in from work with eyes crossed and can’t making another decision – just consult the list! When that typical Sunday doesn’t happen, I enter into a world of improvisation and who knows what you might end up eating. That brings us to this delightful soup that I whipped up for myself the other night. A more apt title for this blog post would be “Everything But the Kitchen Sink (Or Whatever You Have On Hand),” but that felt a bit long-winded.

There was no menu planning or trip to the store this week, and I was proud of myself for digging through the pantry for supplies instead of calling for pizza. Here’s what I threw in the pot:

1 box of vegetable stock
Some frozen chard
Some frozen peas
Diced (sort of) fresh celery
Diced fresh carrots
One sliced up shallot
Minced garlic
The rest of a box of curly pasta

I seasoned with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried oregano; when the pasta was cooked, I added a can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans.

VOILA, almost instant dinner – faster than pizza delivery anyway!

I encourage you all to fearlessly tackle your pantry and see what you come up with. Who knows, you might like it! Worst case scenario? You throw it out and call for pizza.

The Ups of Downs

I fell down the other day. It was sudden and the pavement was hard. I hadn’t expected to find patchy ice when I stepped outside to walk Danny and it was far colder than I had expected. The last thing that I wanted was for him to reinjure himself since he was finally on the road to recovery, but I wasn’t ready to head home either.  

We weren’t far from our house when I took that fateful step. I had been redirecting us to safer footing and I hit the ground with such force that I was momentarily stunned. In hindsight I remember thinking, “Thank goodness my phone is still okay,” as the audiobook I was listening to continued to play. Then I heard the concerned calls from my neighbor asking if I was alright. “I’m fine, no problem!” I called, as I jumped back to my feet and continued walking. 

It wasn’t until I was a block away that the tears filled my eyes and I wondered if I had hurt myself. Still, we continued walking into that cold wind. By the time we turned towards home, I was fairly confident that I had bruised myself quite nicely but nothing more serious. I can’t remember the last time I had a fall like that, I’m always really careful with my footing.

As the days have passed, the pain has changed. I find it interesting that when I first arrived home and inspected myself for injury, there wasn’t much to see. By the end of the day, I was beginning to turn purple in various areas. By the following day, I had even uglier bruising and a sore muscle in the other leg. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a literal example of everyday life a fall is. 

Each day we’re given opportunities to take the safer route for fear of injury. People avoid risk because of the fear they’ll end up hurt, because of the unknown, because of potential worry. Day after day, I have taken that route and I’ve never fallen. I realized that there is no way for us to predict the step that will take us down. In the end what matters is picking ourselves up and taking those first few steps forward while we evaluate the damage. Broken bones, bruises and strained muscles will heal, but fear over the unknown will limit your living. You never know if the step that you take will leave you flat on your back but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it. You should tread carefully and use good judgment, but don’t skip the walk entirely because of fear. You never know what you might miss out on.

Indulgent Dinners at Broders’ Pasta Bar

Several years ago, The Husband and I had dinner at Broders’ Pasta Bar in southwest Minneapolis. To be honest, it was so long ago I can’t remember a thing about it aside from us admiring the light fixtures. Time after time, we tried to go back but the wait was always so ridiculous that finally I snorted at the mere suggestion of eating there.

After all this time, it turns out that the secret to a delicious meal at Broders’ is getting there before they open. What you do is park your car and then go press your face against the window every few minutes until they finally unlock the door. Other would-be diners will be sitting IN their cars, but heed my advice and plant yourself squarely in front of the door. The restaurant was full shortly after we were seated so don’t waste a moment because if you do, you’ll miss out on a delicious dinner. Inspired by our luck, we took it as a sign to indulge ourselves and I encourage you to do the same.

We started with the Bocconcini:

Fresh mozzarella with walnuts, dried cherries & celery

Fresh mozzarella with walnuts, dried cherries & celery

Our server recommended the Penne Rosa al Rosmarino with vegetables for me. It was sensational:

pasta with fresh rosemary, cream & tomato with vegetables (vegetarian)

pasta with fresh rosemary, cream & tomato with vegetables (vegetarian)

When she described the Gnocchi con Manzo e Tartufi as “to die for,” The Husband’s entrée decision was made:

house made herb & ricotta gnocchi with peppered beef tenderloin, crimini mushrooms, leeks & truffle cream

house made herb & ricotta gnocchi with peppered beef tenderloin, crimini mushrooms, leeks & truffle cream

Everything had been so good until this point, we figured we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t order our own desserts. Options with fruit always top my list and I had to try the Pear Cranberry Crostata:

cranberry red wine reduction & vanilla bean ice cream

cranberry red wine reduction & vanilla bean ice cream

The Husband was delighted with his Pistachio Cheesecake:

house made chocolate sauce & toasted pistachios

house made chocolate sauce & toasted pistachios

There’s a reason why it’s so hard to get table at Broders’ and it’s because every bite is beyond awesome. Fortunately, we made the most of this visit so it will tide us over until next time. And if you see a blond girl with her face pressed eagerly against the window, you’ll know why.

Do You Believe in Fairies?

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved fairytales. One day she learned that The Minnesota Arboretum had a special fairy gardens display:

She explored each miniature garden, the magical worlds were enchanting:

She learned that fairies always make time for a little fun and relaxation:

And that you never know who you will meet:

She imagined this was the house of a fairy waiting to cause trouble:

And realized that one should use care when racing into idyllic scenes, because trolls live under bridges:

But that there is usually a happily ever after:

A Taste of Spring – in a Sandwich!

When I was trying to figure out what green-themed recipe to make this week, I realized that I eat A LOT of green food. I also have no problem admitting that I’m completely obsessed with a few of the same recipes (*cough* Green Goddess). Seriously, it is that good. But, I realized I needed something new and different. The most obvious idea would be to make greens, but did I want to be that literal?

In the end, I landed on a weird little dish that was really good, super simple and quick. It probably would have been even better if I’d paid closer attention to the recipe (and the state of my pantry), but what can you do? Running to the Kitchen’s recipe for a Chickpea Pesto Sandwich makes a flexible sandwich filling with a light and fresh taste. One day I used bread, another day I used a flour tortilla, it would even make a good veggie dip. And it’s a forgiving recipe that could be modified in many ways. How was mine different?

What I Skipped:
– My avocados were hard as rocks (BOO!).
– My cilantro’s freshness window had closed.
– I thought we had lemon juice in the house. D’oh!
– Oops… sun dried tomatoes were in the recipe?

What did that leave?
– Chickpeas (YUM!)
– Garlic
– Spinach
– Tahini
– Greek yogurt
– And I added chopped celery to overcome my other shortcomings

I added fresh spinach to my sandwiches, and lunch was set!

Making Springtime Magic

When I think of the First Day of Spring, I imagine a picturesque scene with warm sunlight, cheerful singing and a girl dancing around with a bird chirping on her finger. Yes, I realize that my mental image sounds a lot like a Disney cartoon but for some reason the phrase sounds magical to me. I usually get a rude awakening every year when I look out the window with bleary eyes to find it’s dark, there’s snow, and no birds are waiting to sit on my finger. But year after year when I hear that the First Day of Spring is coming, I can’t help but lose myself momentarily in my imagination.

If you can’t tell, I’ve always liked a good story. Stories are often far more interesting to me than the simple truth. It turns out that the First Day of Spring is a perfect example of that, though science-lovers might be amazed by the Vernal Equinox story. Astronomically speaking, spring has begun and there will be equal parts day and night because of the sun shining directly on the earth in just the right spot. I love the stars and astronomy, but I much prefer the Persephone myth when it comes to explaining the change of seasons.

In Greek legend, Persephone was abducted by the god of the underworld, Hades. Her mother Demeter (the goddess of harvest) desperately searches for her lost daughter and in her grief-stricken state, the seasons are halted and plants begin to die. Zeus, Persephone’s father, fears for the extinction of life on earth and negotiates a deal with Hades to release Persephone. In the end, however, Persephone is bound to Hades in the underworld for one season every year – winter. Spring marks her return to the upper world when Demeter’s grief over her lost daughter comes to an end.

Regardless of what story you think of on this First Day of Spring, I hope that you add a little springtime magic to your own day. I plan to.

Zen Dinner Delights at Evergreen

If you read my earlier post, you’ll know that March Madness is getting me down so I instigated a theme this week to keep my eye on the prize. Sometimes you just need a focus to will you on, for me it is “All Things Green While I Search for Spring.”

You know what makes deciding on a restaurant really easy? Having a theme. The Husband was pouring over Yelp reviews when I chimed in, “Any of those restaurants have ‘green’ in the name?” Who would have guessed that one would? It even fit my request for Asian food and as if it couldn’t get better than that, was very highly rated for its vegetarian and vegan selections. SIGN ME UP! We jumped in the car and headed to Evergreen in Minneapolis.

I loved this place, it was a weird little spot in a basement. And it was QUIET. I’m sure those are turnoffs for many, but I loved it. According to the internet, the owners are a Taiwanese Buddhist couple, she cooks and he serves. The menu is full of Taiwanese specialties as well as Chinese standards and has so many choices, it was hard to decide on only one thing.

It seemed like the best bet was to go with a Chef’s Recommendation and I’m oh, so glad that I did. I had the Three Cup Tofu and it was a garlicky wonder. The Husband liked his dinner okay but felt like he ordered wrong, he had the Happy Family. He said it was good, but he wasn’t dazzled. He should’ve had the tofu. 😉

March Madness Sets In

March is my least favorite month of the year. It’s at this point that the beautiful white snow turns into what I refer to as “dirty winter” and the season loses its luster. Our lovely city looks its worst during this time as spring struggles to gain a foothold against a winter that does not want to end. This is the time that one begins feeling the madness creep in, certain that the winter will never go away.

The forecast for the week is predicting freezing rain, snow and colder temps. The angry red temperature icon has returned to my phone, alerting me to the winter weather advisory in affect. Not only does this week mark St. Patrick’s Day but also the first day of spring and I felt a theme brewing for my blog posts. I’m not a St. Patty’s celebrant, but I do love green, so get ready for a week focused on “All Things Green While I Search for Spring” because we can’t let ourselves succumb to the March Madness!

Before the sleet and snow hit, here are some of the signs that I’ve seen so far that spring is just around the corner:

1) The ice has melted enough that Danny can safely walk the streets again while he continues healing from his injury last fall:

2) You need your rain boots instead of your snow boots (wish I’d worn warmer socks!):

3 & 4) Two of the biggest signs for Minnesotans that spring is here:

5) My strawberries are showing, how can they still be green?

6) The biggest sign of spring? This was everywhere:

Let Them Eat Tacos!

As a vegetarian living in a blended marriage (ie: The Husband eats meat and I do not), I’m always surprised when people tell me how hard it is to feed the vegetarian in their life. The bigger problem in our house is that I prefer healthy food and The Husband does not.

The easiest way to satisfy all appetites is with one meal that everyone can customize for their own tastes. Where to start? Taco Night.

Anything that a person builds themselves lends not only a festive air to the evening, but avoids all those “you don’t eat that?” moments. You know the ones, they are usually accompanied with a smirk on someone’s face. I get it most often when I say I don’t like mayo or sour cream, I give it most often when someone says they don’t like vegetables. Set out the fixings so everyone takes care of themselves and these awkward moments are avoided.

Our taco night fixings usually include:

  • Seasoned taco meat (ground beef)
  • Black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole or avocadoes
  • Cheese
  • Sour cream

Use any shells you want, this also makes an easy meal for the gluten-free friend in your life if you add corn tortillas.

Not only will tacos satisfy the vegetarians and meat eaters, they will simplify things for the pickiest eater. Just provide plenty of fixings, and everyone will be happy, they can even whip up their own version of taco salad filling (which is how I eat taco night leftovers).

Nature Studies: Birds

This is my final post in my photo series from the Minnesota Valley Nature Preserve, and it’s for the birds!

I don’t remember when my fascination with birds began, but I do remember watching David Attenborough’s LIFE OF BIRDS on PBS 15 years ago, eyes wide with wonder. Each week, I tuned in for the next episode of the nine-part series. That was before television had its digital transition, there was no such thing as TiVo or Netflix, and my internet connection was via dial-up. It’s hard to imagine that world anymore.

At the time, I was shocked by what I watched. Those amazing birds could be some nasty little buggers. But there is also beauty and endurance that you can’t imagine.

Now I look for birds all the time. Living in Minneapolis, I feel fortunate that there is such a wide variety – you just have to watch for them. Earlier this week, I saw an eagle roosting in a tree on my way home from work. Red-Tailed Hawks are a regular fixture on light poles along the freeway and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds went right through my yard on their migration last fall. I’m an equal opportunity observer with birds, the Black-Capped Chickadee is one of my favorites and Nuthatches make me laugh with the weird little sound they make. I hadn’t realized how many birds were in my urban backyard until I started to look, I encourage you to take some time to look yourself.

Here are some of my shots from the nature preserve:

eagle

We guessed that this was a juvenile bald eagle, are we right?

chickadee

Incognito. (Black-Capped Chickadee)

crow

Crow (and fish casualty)

red-bellied woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

 

chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

male cardinals in trees

Brotherly love. (Male cardinals)

 

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

And my personal favorite, the squirrel photo bomb:
male cardinals and squirrel in tree