Sunday Fun-Day: Farmer’s Markets, Pumpkin Patches and Tasty Treats

Call me crazy, but there’s a part of me that enjoys waking up tired after having a great weekend. The Husband would say that I try to jam something into every free moment of the day and he’s right. But my approach makes for the most epic of Sunday Fun-Days.

We started the day with Friends in Minneapolis at the last Kingfield Market of the season. The air was crisp and fresh. I love that Minnesotans will still go to the farmer’s market in winter jackets, hats and gloves – it was 35 degrees when we left the house. The selection was impressive and I couldn’t stop staring at this vendor’s preserves:

preserves
I considered squeezing some canning into my day but knew it would only end in tears.

The four of us picked breakfasts from three different places (Gai Gai Thai, Chef Shack and Foxy Falafel), reconvening to eat:

foxy-omelette
My Foxy Falafel Breakfast Omelet (vegetarian). YUM!
thai-bowl
The Friend’s Gai Gai Thai Bowl. Two thumbs up, or so I hear!
breakfast-hash
The Friend’s Husband’s Breakfast Hash from Chef Shack. Mm-mmmm chorizo.
walleye-sandwich
The Husband’s non-traditional breakfast, a Walleye Sandwich from Chef Shack. A Minnesota classic.

Every good breakfast deserves dessert. These donuts from Bogart Loves were just what every morning needs:

donuts
Why have one donut when you can have two?

We got home in time to make a last minute batch of Chocolate Pumpkin Cookies for the party we were going to Monday night.* The Husband gave these cookies a 7 out of 10 on the cookie rating scale (that’s pretty good!):

cookie dough

The Mother arrived promptly at 1pm for our Pumpkin Carving Party. We missed The Mom-In-Law but hopefully this post will fill her in on all the excitement she missed.

When you’re having a Pumpkin Carving Party, you need pumpkins. We tried our luck at a nearby orchard called Pine Tree Apple Orchard (fyi – no dogs allowed). With the weather being so nice (by this point it was nearly 60), it seems everyone had the same idea. The pumpkins were picked over and the place was a mob scene, so we just walked around and took in the landscape:

minnesota-scenery
Fall colors.
corn-stalks
There were several “Children of the Corn” references on this walk. OUTLANDER!

We headed back to Minneapolis by way of Stillwater and found a charming pumpkin patch along the way. Doesn’t this look like the perfect scene for a fall, pumpkin-hunting day? We had a great time at Axdahl’s Farm:

barn

pumpkins
This was only a portion of the selection, there were pumpkins everywhere!

It took a while before we found the pumpkins that would become these:

jack-o-lanterns
Boo!

And these:

pumpkin-seeds
Perfect pumpkin seeds.

Perfect Pumpkin Seeds Recipe:  Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Rinse pumpkin seeds with water. I put mine in a colander and swirl my fingers around in them while running water over them, helps catch the last of the pumpkin goop. Place seeds on a rimmed cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and stir to coat. Bake for approximately an hour until golden brown and crunchy, stirring seeds every 15 minutes to prevent burning.

Definitely a Sunday Fun-Day indeed. Can’t wait until next weekend….

* Update post-party: The cookies were a huge hit, they were eaten with gusto. I highly recommend this simple recipe, it is obviously a crowd-pleaser.

Date Night (for One): Knitting Books and Vodka Tasting

I find that Date Nights without The Husband call for indulgent behavior. This week it would include perusing my new knitting book and sampling my homemade vodka infusions to see if they were ready for bottling. It turned out to be great fun until the next morning. Use care when sampling infused vodka, my friends, there’s a hangover creeping in every sip which is why this post is late this week.

vodka sampling
Vodkas from left to right: Sugarless Grape, Grape with Sugar, and Apple-Cinnamon-Clove

Last year I started an experiment with The Neighbor’s grapes. After two years of failed grape jam-making attempts (see my blog post on Tomato Preserving), I decided that there had to be an easier way. I did a little Googling, asked The Mother how she made Raspberry Liqueur, bought gallons of Phillips vodka and tried my first batch of infused grape vodka. What I learned from that test run was that if you let fruit infuse in cheap vodka long enough, eventually you end up with a smooth beverage that everyone ends up sipping with a raised eyebrow asking, “What is this exactly?” Then they request a recipe.

This year, I took the experiment further. Not only would I try a slightly higher quality vodka, I would actually take notes so I could try to recreate the tasty beverage. I also decided to throw in some different fruits to see what tasted the best infused into vodka.

The secret to these vodka infusions (at least that I’ve found) is regular stirring and tasting. My grape infusions have been steeping since September 24 and have been slowly improving in flavor. The first few weeks they usually taste like bad vodka with a hint of fruit. Leave them long enough and they become incredibly smooth and full of fruity body. Don’t be in a rush when you do this experiment.

I began my tasting with the newest experiment, the Apple-Cinnamon-Clove Vodka. I must have imagined writing my notes on a Post-It, because there isn’t one on the lid of the jar. OOPS. But for now, this one has not been infusing as long as the others, has cinnamon and cloves for seasoning and it is good. The flavors are strong, it is easy to finish. The color is beautiful. I imagine it will make a fantastic Hot Toddy this winter.

apple vodka infusion
Apple-Cinnamon-Clove infused vodka – great for fall nights.

The two grape infusions were started four days apart and one has sugar added while the other does not. The vodka without the sugar (that is four days younger) has a much more vibrant color while the older fruit with sugar is smoother and went down easier. I expect all of the infusions could be ready to filter in a week or two but we’ll see. It’s all according to taste and how long you want to deal with stirring and tasting, but overall it is a low-maintenance process. Last year I had the grapes infusing for nearly two months before filtering and bottling.

grape infused vodka
Grape infused vodka, with no sugar.
grape vodka
Grape infused vodka with sugar.

I’ve also made rhubarb infused vodka that is great and is such a pretty pink! That is The Neighbor’s favorite and she is planning on making cases of it next season. Rhubarb definitely requires the shortest amount of time infusing, I gave it about 3-4 weeks. Again, I seem to have misplaced that Post-It, so I will have to try again next summer. It appears that my goals of documentation were better in concept than execution – but what can you do? I made the rhubarb infusion when rhubarb was in season, so that was not on the tasting menu tonight.

As for the knitting patterns, this new book (One + One: Scarves, Shawls & Shrugs) might be my new favorite pattern book ever. I think it’s time to turn on the electric fireplace, pour another sampling of Apple-Cinnamon-Clove Vodka and see what yarn I need to shop for tomorrow. Date Night’s (for One) aren’t so bad if a girl has a good plan in place, especially if it includes a little knitting and vodka. Cheers!

Vodka Infusion Guidelines
Lots of fruit (I have 8 cups of grapes in my container)
10 cups of vodka (3-4 inches of vodka should cover the fruit)
Optional: 4 TBS sugar

** You can infuse in smaller quantities. My process is fairly relaxed, approximately 2 parts fruit to 3 parts vodka. Adding sugar is optional. Cover the jar and stir regularly. When you think it’s ready, strain the mixture through a coffee filter, bottle and serve.

A Cozy Dinner for Two

With the weather getting cold again, I couldn’t wait to try a new soup recipe. I’ve been jonesing for some lentils but as I’ve mentioned before, The Husband is “not as into the bean” as I am – and sadly, that includes the lentil. A quick phone call to The Mother and I not only had a dinner date, she was offering to make her Never Fail Popovers. Sounded like a great deal to me!

The soup recipe that I basically made (it goes against my nature to follow directions) was the Very Green Lentil Soup recipe from EatingWell. My modifications included:

  • Rainbow chard instead of green chard
  • Ground cumin in place of toasted cumin seeds
  • Parsley in place of cilantro (cilantro tastes like soap to The Mother, thank goodness I don’t have that problem)
  • Skipped the fresh lemon juice and drizzle of oil at serving (because I was lazy)

The verdict? DELICIOUS. And it’s a good thing too, because I’ve got a whole lot of it to eat!

popover and soup
Adding feta when serving makes puts it over the top – keep extra close by!

For The Mother’s Never Fail Popover* recipe, it turns out we have William-Sonoma to thank for their Perfect Popover! For your own Cozy Dinner for Two, The Mother has scaled their recipe back to make 2 popovers. Here are her measurements for ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 C. milk
  • 1/3 C. flour
  • A dash or two of salt
  • 2/3 tbsp. butter

Follow the directions from William-Sonoma, but use two glass ramekins to bake instead of popover pans. VOILA!

* Be advised that it is possible to fail at the Never Fail Popover recipe. While I am incredibly cavalier in the kitchen with substitutions, I can tell you from personal experience that you should not make substitutions with this recipe. Especially do not use whole wheat flour to try adding nutritional value because the popovers will not “pop,” they will become flat little dough bricks which aren’t terrible, but definitely are not the light and airy delight that these Never Fail Popovers will be if you follow the instructions from The Mother and William-Sonoma.