Monthly Archives: February 2011

Moroccan Chicken and a Foot of Snow

Today’s big snow storm was predicted just as a nasty cold took hold of my senses. Welcome to an ordinary winter weekend in Minnesota. To lift my spirits, I made sure I had good food to keep me company, without having to leave the house to get it. It was preserved lemons and limes that inspired me. The few jars I made early in December have been sitting on my back stairs waiting for me to give them a try.

The idea of making Moroccan chicken is what led me to preserve citrus in the first place, so I pulled up this recipe from Tyler Florence and compared it to the contents of my pantry. Rub cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, cumin, fennel, coriander, paprika, salt, and brown sugar into the chicken. Check. Put lemon, garlic, and herbs inside the chicken and roast for one hour. Check. Add apricots, almonds, green onion, and parsley to the couscous after it steams. Check. The green olive sauce that’s called for looks great, but I only had four green olives on hand, so I figured I would sauté them with the chicken and preserved limes in the end.

Et voila, what ended up on on my shopping list? Simply one whole chicken, which I picked up this week on my way home from work. Instant winter bliss. The chicken goes into the oven a rich, brick red and sputters loudly at 400 degrees as it cooks. When it’s done, the lemons roasted in the chicken’s cavity are so supple the juice darts through your fingers in every direction as you squeeze the rind in your hand. The meat is warm with heat and rich spice, which perfectly matches the earthy almonds and sweet dried fruit.

For a food lover, there’s few things more luxurious than a well-stocked pantry, especially in the middle of winter. In less than three hours, I roasted the chicken, had coffee, and talked to two friends. As the chicken cooled off, I made the couscous, then took off the meat and sautéed it with the green olives and sliced preserved limes. With food like this, some movies, and a bottle of wine, the storm can bring anything my way, and I won’t mind.

New Scenic Cafe

Just beyond a shallow front yard, a pair of red Adirondacks, and the old two-lane highway lies Superior, the largest of the lakes, taking up more space than my eye can hold. It’s so vast, its interior so mysterious, I don’t know how to imagine what’s inside. I decide to stop wondering about it and simply appreciate it for what it is.

Inside the New Scenic Cafe, I sit with a menu and a good friend, contenting myself with easier calculations. It’s quiet and calm. We choose what to have for lunch and share stories as we wait for the food to arrive at our table. I look at the families around us eating together and wish I had one of my own. I wonder if I should live closer to nature as I try not to think about the long interstate that will soon take us back home.

I hear a happy sigh as she takes the first sip of her black coffee. She’d been raving about the New Scenic for the past two days as we drove through Minnesota and would’ve been disappointed if we hadn’t come. She and her sisters eat here when they come to the North Shore, and I know plenty of people who love this place just as much as they do. This was my first time eating at the New Scenic and I can easily see what all the excitement is about.

I had a salad and a starter — at least, I thought that’s all I was having until the dessert menu came along. Everything was so well executed, I wish I’d eaten more to experience a wider selection of what this restaurant can do.

Artichoke and apple salad: Artichoke flan, granny smith and honey crisp apples, fennel, ponzu, grapeseed oil, marcona almonds.

Butternut squash ravioli: Cream, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pesto, pecans, romano.

Pumpkin goat cheese cake: Ginger tuile, madeira fortified white figs.

Did you get a load of this dessert? Even the language compels me. I love that there’s an incorrect space in the word “cheesecake” so no one will think the chef is offering “pumpkin goat cheesecake.” I wanted to know what tuile is (it’s the architecturally impressive cookie acting as the cheesecake crust). And I was so pleased the drunken white figs are called “fortified” — and that there’s even such a thing as white figs at all. This is the best dessert I’ve had in a long time.

The New Scenic is what your weekend cabin would be like if you had an interior designer and a great chef in your family. The menu is sophisticated, but not fussy. The menu is farm-inspired, but doesn’t draw attention to itself because of it. The local art on the walls is inspiring. Long, thin tree branches placed throughout the corners of the restaurant bring the spirit of winter inside. And, if you’re so inclined, the New Scenic is also just a wonderful place to sit, spend some time, and think about your own particular place in the world.

New Scenic Cafe on Urbanspoon

This Is My Madeleine

This Valentine’s Day, I’m more than a little confused. I can’t tell if something important in my life has ended or has just begun. I was going to make oeufs en meurette for someone, but we’re planning to not see each other for awhile, even though everything between us feels so wonderful and right. Some days, the newfound freedom feels exciting and full of potential. Other days, I feel like the 4-year-old version of myself who lost her precious teddy bear named Charlie and wailed at the top of her lungs until my mom had to take me back to the store to figure out where it had gone.

This morning, I did the only thing that felt right. I woke up early, cleaned the kitchen, and made madeleines. I’d been collecting madeleine pans each time I saw them at the thrift store, and I delighted in it, as though I was rescuing lost puppies from the pound. I have five of these beauties now, both small and large, all of them weathered and old.

I’m not sure what I like more about madeleines, their literary history as a vessel for Proust’s childhood memories, or that I find the scallop-shell shape so pleasantly reassuring. Venus was born in a scallop shell, a full-grown, sensuous woman perfectly beautiful from the moment she took her first breath. Madeleines are like that, and I’ve always thought about Venus to remind myself that I am too, no matter what life might take away from me.

I found comfort in madeleines this morning, following Patricia Wells’ recipe, creating the perfect shape, what Proust called “the little scallop shell pastry, so richly sensual under its religious fold.”

I love madeleines because they are so plainly beautiful, so simply and exactly what they are. Maybe I was drawn to them as a reminder. Don’t lose yourself, don’t change for the sake of someone else, and certainly don’t worry about what’s to come. One day years from now, I’ll make madeleines again one morning. I have no idea what kitchen I’ll be in, or who I’ll be with, if anyone. I have no idea what I will think about how I feel now. But I’m confident the madeleines will bring in a flood of wonderful memories, as I’m a person who will always be happy with whatever shape my life has taken on.