Digging Sweet Potatoes

A Recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole

I never tasted a sweet potato until I was in my 20s. They weren’t part of our Thanksgiving table, restaurants weren’t serving them as fries yet and I never really knew what to do with them when I passed them at the grocery store. I’m not sure what prompted me to try this recipe five years ago, but this Sweet Potato Casserole has become one of my favorite things to eat and now I make it every year for Thanksgiving:
sweet potato casserole

The recipe from EatingWell is quick and simple, I love how the orange flavor comes through:

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, (3 medium), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup low-fat milk
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons frozen orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Place sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain well and return to the pan. Mash with a potato masher. Measure out 3 cups. (Reserve any extra for another use.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (or similar 2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.

Whisk eggs, oil and honey in a medium bowl. Add mashed sweet potato and mix well. Stir in milk, orange zest, vanilla and salt. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish.

To prepare topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, orange juice concentrate, oil and butter in a small bowl. Blend with a fork or your fingertips until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over the casserole.
Bake the casserole until heated through and the top is lightly browned, 35 to 45 minutes.

Active time, 30 minutes. Total time, 1-1/4 hours.

10 Little Known Facts About Thanksgiving

A Brief Thanksgiving History Lesson

wild turkeys

It’s that time of year where families and friends gather together across America to gorge themselves on green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and turkey – or for the vegetarians out there, Tofurky. Everyone has their own way of passing the day, but how much do we know about this holiday? I looked to Google for answers, here are my Top 10  favorite finds:

  1. The first Thanksgiving took place in America in 1621 but was not called “Thanksgiving” and was not a widely celebrated tradition until more than a century later.
  2. The pilgrims originally planned on spending the day in prayer while fasting, but it turned into a non-secular harvest feasting celebration with the Wampanoag Indians that included dancing and games.
  3. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863 at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies Book (a popular women’s magazine at the time). Sarah spent 17 years lobbying five presidents to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
  4. While Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday, he did not fix the date. Presidents had to proclaim Thanksgiving every year until 1941 when Congress approved the official date set by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 – the fourth Thursday in the month of November.
  5. Not only did Sarah Josepha Hale advocate that Thanksgiving be declared a federal holiday, she was also the visionary behind the Thanksgiving menu as we know it today. Sarah wrote extensive descriptions of the Thanksgiving meal in addition to publishing recipes for the traditional items we associate with the day. (Unrelated side note, Sarah also wrote the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)
  6. It is unlikely that turkeys were eaten at the first Thanksgiving, those lucky birds had tough meat and were hard to catch.
  7. It is possible that cranberries were on the table in 1621 because they were native to New England and were part of the diet during the 1600s, but they were not eaten jellied. The rest of the America was introduced to cranberries in 1912 when Ocean Spray Preserving company began packaging and shipping them around the country.
  8. While they likely ate pumpkins, there was no pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving because there was no flour in 1620s New England. The majority of pumpkins grown in the United States today are turned into pumpkin puree.
  9. Abraham Lincoln allegedly saved a Thanksgiving turkey at the request of his son, but the first turkey officially pardoned was by George H.W. Bush in 1989.
  10. Those images of pilgrims with buckles on their hats and shoes? Not accurate representations of the poor, conservative settlers in Plymouth. Buckles didn’t come in come into fashion until late in the 17th century and since they were more expensive, were often a status symbols.

Want to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving? Watch this fun video from the History Channel:

The Caves of Faribault

Faribault, Minnesota has one of the best-kept secrets in the state: The Cheese Caves. The first cave was carved into the naturally occurring sandstone thanks to German immigrants in the 1850s. Brothers Ernst & Gottfried Fleckenstein founded a brewery and used the caves for brewing and storing beer. Their brewery Fleckenstein Brewing operated in the caves until Prohibition.

The caves were quiet until 1936 when a cheese maker came to town. Expanding the largest cave and carving additional ones, it was there that the AmaBlu® blue cheese recipe was created by Felix Frederiksen. According to Caves of Faribault,  it was the first blue cheese made in America. Frederiksen’s company eventually came to be known as Treasure Cave, Inc.

In the 1990s, the caves were purchased and cheese production moved to a conventional facility in another state, but in 2001, the Faribault Dairy Company (now the Caves of Faribault®) was founded to bring them back to life. And thank goodness they did. Almost eighty years after that first batch of blue cheese was made by Felix Frederiksen, the caves are back in business. The internationally acclaimed cheese is still made by hand in traditional open vats following Frederiksen’s original recipe. Using only Grade A milk, traditional starter culture, salt and Penicillium rocquefortii, it is hand salted, cured and aged in the caves.

Cheeses and specialty items are now sold at their gourmet artisan cheese shop, The Cheese Cave. A casual cafe is located at the back of the shop and guests can relax over a glass of wine or have a delicious lunch featuring the Cheese Cave cheeses like these sandwiches:

Flatbreads like this Pear Gorgonzola Pizza:
pear and Gorgonzola pizza

And unique cheesecakes made from blue cheese with fruit toppings:

Cave tours are not allowed in person but they can be enjoyed through the internet:

The next time you’re in Minnesota, save room for some cheese and head to Faribault. Can’t get there in person? Not a problem, they have an online shop.

Primary sources used in this article:
The Caves of Faribault
The Cheese Caves

Spinning a Yarn

Back at the Spinning Wheel

Rain came to Minnesota this weekend. While I ran errands and thought of Marilyn Monroe’s breathy rendition of “We’re Having a Heatwave,” it seemed like the perfect weather to spend a little quality time with an old friend.
bobbin and flyer

My spinning wheel has been sitting neglected for nearly a year. At some point, our old cat Virgil ate the drive band – that’s the string that makes the wheel turn. This is nothing new, in our house you have to watch anything with strings because Virgil will eat the laces right off your tennis shoes.

After a short tune-up, the spinning wheel was ready to go and by bedtime, I had spun, plied and wound a beautiful hank of green handspun yarn:green handspun yarn

From that point on, the weekend was filled with fiber fantasies of wool, alpaca and angora. I see much more spinning in my near future.


It’s Not Delivery, It’s Homemade (Pizza!)

Bread Machine Pizza Dough

I’m having an affair with my bread machine. After mutliple breadmaking disasters, I  banished the machine to the basement where it has been collecting dust for years. Recently I had an urge to give it a try again and after doing a little research, finally turned out a successful loaf! What ended up being the secret? NOT following the manufacturers instructions. I now add the yeast to the water instead of putting it in the machine last.Three loaves later, I was compelled to kick it up a notch and try making my own pizza dough.

The important thing to keep in mind when making your own pizza dough is to allow enough time. While a bread machine will do all of the work for you, it still takes a long time. For example, the “dough setting” on my machine takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to complete, that’s not a last-minute dinner idea or you’ll be waiting for a long time to eat. Get that dough started at a reasonable hour and then go about your business! I used All Recipe’s very highly rated Bread Machine Pizza Dough recipe that is made using flat beer and it came out amazing:
homemade pizza

Here’s their recipe:


1 cup flat beer (I used Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast


  1. Put beer, butter, sugar, salt, flour, and yeast in a bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Dough setting, and press Start.
  2. Remove dough from bread machine when cycle is complete. Roll or press dough to cover a prepared pizza pan. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cover and let stand 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  4. Spread sauce and toppings on top of dough. Bake until crust is lightly brown and crispy on the outside, about 24 minutes.

For the sauce, I combined diced tomatoes with the last of my slow roasted garden tomatoes in the freezer and topped it with freshly grated mozzarella cheese. Served with a simple salad on the side with a homemade vinaigrette, we declared it a culinary masterpiece:
homemade pizza and salad

New Treasures: The Shaving Mug

A leisurely afternoon recently spent in Faribault, Minnesota unearthed a new treasure that I was unfamiliar with: The Shaving Mug. We were exploring every nook and cranny of the Nook and Cranny when I came across what appeared to be an ingenious teacup:

shaving mug

I was slightly confused by the cup’s decoration because a historic fire truck image seemed to be an odd choice for a teacup, but I still liked it and went to make my purchase:

shaving mug design

Making small talk while checking out, I mentioned how excited I was about my new teacup. The woman looked at me quizzically and said, “The what?” I pointed at my new find. She said, “Well, that’s a really interesting way of using that. I think it is actually a mustache cup.” Color me surprised. A what?

Later research revealed that during the Victorian period (the 1800s), drinking hot beverages was a liability for men with waxed mustaches. When the hot cup was held to their lips, their mustache wax would melt and would run into their cups. An ingenious inventor crafted the Moustache Cup to solve this problem. By adding a little ledge to the top of the cup, the mustachioed drinker could sip to his heart’s content with no worries about his well-coiffed ‘stache:

Moustache cup Tea museum

I quickly learned from this research that what I had was not a moustache cup but was actually a shaving mug. During the years when straight razors were used for shaving, most men owned shaving mugs. Because many men were typically shaved at a barber shop, they would leave their mugs there. In order to make their mug easily identifiable from the other mugs in the barber shop, they quickly became personalized; the period between 1880 and 1920 became the peak for what are considered “occupational shaving mugs.” Some men had hand-customized shaving mugs imported from France and Germany that they purchased through their barbers, but others took advantage of the generic styles that could be purchased through local stores or the Sears catalog.

Knowing more about this history makes me enjoy my cup even more.

shaving mug tea cup

You can learn more about the history of shaving mugs from Sharpologist.

Dinner at Kim’s Kitchen

Great Chinese Food in St. Paul

We are always on the lookout for great Chinese food, especially when it’s getting late and we’re out running errands. The other evening, desperate for food ideas and hungry for something simple, we noticed Kim’s Kitchen as we flew past on Randolph Avenue in St. Paul. Kim’s is a small, neighborhood restaurant that has been family-owned since the 1960s. They have a simple menu that features classic American-style Chinese food, perfect for those evenings when you want something comforting – it reminded me of the Chinese food I grew up eating from our neighborhood restaurant in southwest Minneapolis.

The Husband asked for a chicken recommendation and was told that the Kung Pao Chicken was one of their most popular items. He ordered up and cleaned his plate:
kung pao chicken

I tried the Vegetable Lo Mein and could have cleaned my plate but managed to stop myself. The only thing it was missing was a little tofu, but I love tofu on everything:
vegetarian lo mein

We headed home feeling warm and fuzzy from good food, hot tea and the quiet atmosphere. The next time we want great Chinese takeout, we’ll definitely be calling Kim’s.

Ten Great Minnesota Winter Moments

With winter officially underway in Minnesota, I have been thinking about all of the things I’d like to do this season. I decided to look back at last winter for inspiration, here are some of my favorite moments:

The beauty of magical snowstorms:
snowy trees

Exploring frozen waterfalls, Minnehaha Falls changes completely during winter and you have the park to yourself:
minnehaha falls

Searching for Snowy Owls in Minnesota’s frozen tundra:
snowy owl

Braving the elements for photography sessions with The Husband:
winter landscape

Finding wildlife at Woodlake Nature Preserve:

Celebrating a Swedish Christmas at the American Swedish Institute’s Julmarknad event:
Julmarknad musicians

The Wedding of the Year. There will never be another wedding like this one, but thank goodness you can buy Buttercream Cakes for no reason!

The best Christmas gift ever: The Griddler. There were so many delicious sandwiches eaten last winter and so many more to come:

Christmas Cookie Bake-off with The Best-Good Friend. I must come up with a reason to do this more than once a year:
christmas cookies


Spending the day at the Minnesota Raptor Center learning about these stunning birds:
great horned owl

What is your favorite thing to do during the winter?

Winter Warm Up: Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

What’s for Dinner? Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie!

Temperatures took a nosedive in Minnesota over the last few weeks and that made me want to fire up the oven. Shepherd’s Pie was not a meal that I grew up eating, but this recipe from EatingWell caught my attention. Lentils? Mashed potatoes? Veggies? Ready in 45 minutes? Sign me up!vegetarian shepherd's pie

This Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie recipe is filled with yummy flavor. It would be easy to make vegan, or add cooked meat to individual ramekins if non-vegetarians are coming to the dinner table. I had originally planned to add browned ground beef to The Husband’s ramekin, but he had other dinner plans that evening. Since I was making it for myself, I kept the recipe vegetarian and used one small baking dish instead of individual ramekins. I substituted regular milk for the buttermilk and used frozen mixed veggies instead of frozen corn.

Here are the instructions from EatingWell:

1 pound Yukon Gold or white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup buttermilk (I used regular milk)
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed (I used frozen mixed veggies)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned (rinsed) lentils

  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Add buttermilk, butter and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher until mostly smooth.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler. Coat four 10- to 12-ounce broiler-safe ramekins (or an 8-inch-square broiler-safe baking dish) with cooking spray. Place ramekins on a broiler-safe baking sheet.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in corn, thyme and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Stir in broth. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in lentils and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  4. Divide the hot lentil mixture among the prepared ramekins (or spread in the baking dish). Top with the mashed potatoes. Broil, rotating halfway through, until the potato is lightly browned in spots, 6 to 10 minutes.

This simple and delicious recipe for Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie makes 4 generous servings  (2 cups each) and is ready to eat in 45 minutes. The leftovers will knock your socks off.

The Veterans Conservation Corps & Sibley State Park

The stock market crash of October 1929 sent the United States spiraling into the deepest economic downturn in history. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office on March 4,  1933, nearly half of the country’s banks had collapsed and between 13 and 15 million Americans were unemployed. FDR called the Congress into Emergency Session five days later and proposed the Emergency Conservation Work (EWC) Act, more widely known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.

civilian conservation corps

Civilian Conservation Corps, Trabuco Camp, El Toro, 1933

Considered a “peacetime army,” the goal of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was to recruit unemployed young men and “have them do battle against the destruction and erosion of America’s natural resources.” Originally targeted to men 18-23, the program was eventually expanded to include men 17-28. The men lived together in camps run by the U.S. Army and the program provided them with food, shelter and clothing.  In exchange for their service, they received $30 a month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families. A subgroup of the CCC program was specifically for veterans of WWI, their group was called the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC).

sibley state park

Sibley State Park

In 1935, the Veterans Conservation Corps #1785 arrived in New London, Minnesota to “build” Sibley State Park. The state park had been established in 1919, but until the VCC arrived, development within its boundaries was limited. Over the next three years, approximately 200 men built roads, buildings and trails within the park. Granite buildings still stand as a reminder of their handiwork and most are on the National History Register.

historic fish house building

Sibley State Park Fish Cleaning Building built by VCC

The Civilian Conservation Corps program came to an end in 1942 with World War II and the dwindling need for work relief. The legacy of the program can be seen across the country through the nearly 3 billion trees they planted to help reforest America, in the more than 800 parks they built, the upgrades they made to existing parks, the updated forest fire fighting methods they helped implement, and through their building of service structures and roadways in remote areas. More than three million young men were involved in the CCC, it has been described as the most popular experiment of the New Deal.

Water Tower and Campground Shelter built by the VCC

Water Tower and Campground Shelter built by the VCC

Primary Sources for this post were:
Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy
Educational signs located at Sibley State Park