A Beet Lover’s Confessional

I must admit, I rang in 2010 tucked away in the outer boroughs of New York City with R and a large tub of fresh artichokes, which he taught me how to cook based on his grandfather’s old recipe.

R adores artichokes. He lights up every time he talks about them. When he was a kid, he wouldn’t let anyone talk to him if he was eating one of the artichoke dishes his large Italian family would put in front of his face. Given how full of life he is, I think they started to use it as a strategy.

You can see why I was surprised when R claimed I have an equally passionate relationship with beets.

“Your beet is my artichoke, Obry,” he said, going so far as to claim I have a fetish for them. It’s hard to describe just what it is about them. Beets make me sigh. Of all the stuff in the produce section, they’re the most fun to bring home. They’re so awkward, with their and crazy tall greens and peculiar long tails so animated it looks like they could scamper away.

I roast beets at least once a week and eat them with any combination of greens, grains, and cheese — or just straight on their own. I rarely buy bare beets, as the greens are delicious to eat with nothing but sea salt, shaved raw garlic, and a swing of olive oil.

And what else can you do with that beet meat? I had a loaf of Rustica’s whole grain bread and homemade hummus in the fridge, which led to this lovely combination — a roasted beet and hummus sandwich.

R, just so you know, the beet lover in me honors the artichoke lover in you. 😉


Eat, Pray, Poach

What with one thing or another, this weekend went by without a moment to spare. My column for the co-op was due, which in itself is enough to keep me blissfully engaged for 72 hours. For every column, I develop a new recipe, test it 2 or 3 times, write my heart out, and take a bunch of pictures. In this case, I made a wonderful French dish, which I won’t say more about until the article is out in February. However, the detail crucial to the arc of my weekend is that I must have poached, medium-boiled, and soft-boiled about 82 eggs.

Food photography is not yet my strong suit. I went to Ace to get a flood light, hoping it would help me take salacious pictures, but it only threw a red-orange light on everything, and it certainly didn’t get better when I knocked it off its makeshift ledge and broke the bulb on the floor. C’est la vie! Julia Child, if you were born in the digital age, what would yooooouu have done? After you mastered the art of French cooking, would you have mastered the art of blogging about it? In the end, I scored best with those pictures taken in natural sunlight. (Click on it. You know you want to.)


In addition to making a infernal mess in the kitchen, I also met my favorite gals for our short fiction discussion, attended back-to-back holiday parties, and went on not one, but two dates. Remember those?

I ended up at a strip-mall cafe in a suburb I don’t recall sipping Ethiopian coffee with a computer systems analyst. My philosophical disposition was already understood, so he asked me a ton of questions about my understanding of relationships. I responded with even more questions, deconstructed the whole yin/yang affair, and felt like I applied the Socratic method to dating as we reached the limits of our provisional knowledge. I suspect I wasn’t so graceful, though, when I stepped out of the cafe, looked around, and asked, almost incredulously, “Now… where are we?”

Better yet, I also ended up drinking tea at cozy and dimly lit Uncommon Grounds with an intelligent, curious, and curly-haired psychologist with a PhD. He had read my blog before we met, and one of the first things he said after we sat down with our tea went like this. “I told my friend I was meeting Carrie…” (pause, given that this is my name), “like Carrie from Sex & the City. She might write about me!” It was clear he was being playful, although I also decided then and there that his statement would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. (wink)

We had a nice, slow volley of a conversation and I liked his habit of alternately looking at me or staring pensively out the window at Hennepin Avenue while he spoke. Before I knew it, we were done talking and he was kicking my butt in a board game I had never played before. If dating isn’t enough to keep you on your toes, trying playing a breakneck game of Bananagrams while you do.

I suppose there are some things in life, like poaching eggs, snapping pictures, or playing board games while dating, that a girl’s just gotta learn how to do.

Restaurant Alma

There’s an abstract quality about living in the Upper Midwest, and Minneapolis specifically, that makes me feel innately at home.

I grew up in Milwaukee. I’ve lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Chicago. I’ve visited Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I’m an urbanist, a lover of cities, and an adaptable person, so I would probably bloom wherever I was planted. Yet despite my semi-regular fantasies of living elsewhere (say, Europe), the Midwest is permanently in my blood and my bones. Minneapolis has become my Mini Apple. It’s my not-quite Chicago and my bigger-than Milwaukee. To borrow from the French, Minneapolis is my terroir — and I like it that way.

The most elegant way to live is to consider yourself an essential part of where you’re from. It’s the same for cooking. Food is life, after all. It comes from the ground beneath our feet and responds to the seasons just as we do. Last week, I had a fantastic experience at Restaurant Alma, a much-loved restaurant in Minneapolis serving hand-crafted food made with fresh, seasonal, organic, and local ingredients. Alma nails local elegance on the head.

My food-going friend Angela and I enjoyed two hours of conversation and three courses on a cold Friday night. At first, the name struck me as arbitrary, even a little incongruous. Alma means “soul” in Spanish — and the restaurant isn’t Spanish in any way. It’s elemental and sophisticated, and although influenced by food from around the world, I would call it farm-inspired American — and thoroughly Minnesota chic. (Hey, that’s my term, so don’t steal it. I first used it last year, which you can read about here if you’d like.)

The crowd was culturally interesting — lots of ages and races and pairings of dates, families, and friends. I especially loved the older folks there in suits on special occasion dinners with their spouses and kids. (I’m the daughter of a truck driver. What can I say?) The staff was pleasant and professional and our server mentioned she had been working there for nearly 10 years.

The menu, thoughtfully curated and presented, is organized into three courses. For 45 dollars, you can choose one plate from each course, though if you have any sense about you, it will be torture to choose just three. I started with a mixed lettuce salad with roasted beets, buttermilk dressing, salsa verde, and pine nuts. Beet lovers like me, rejoice. Red and golden beets, and plenty of them.

Secondi, I had the ricotta gnocchi with fricassee of vegetables, black truffle butter, and parmigiana cheese. If pillows of ricotta pasta weren’t enough, the black truffle butter made the plate sing.

And finally, I had seared scallops with spiced chickpeas, roasted squash, wilted spinach, and lemon preserve — a generous and honest plate of food with three perfectly browned scallops.

By the end of the night, I started to see the brilliance behind the name Alma. Restaurant Alma serves the soul of the Midwest. The food is elegant without a hint of fussiness. It’s generous, yet well-conceived. It’s affordable fine food — and also the perfect spot for a date, by the way, but save it for the third or fourth. This kind of culinary intimacy would be a shame to waste on anything less than romantic. Or, if dating just ain’t coming your way, grab a great friend like I did and have yourself a memorable (and soulful) meal.

Restaurant Alma on Urbanspoon

My Interview with Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern eats his way around the world . . . and all the way back home again to Minneapolis-St Paul

As host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Food and now Bizarre World, Andrew Zimmern gallops across the globe for more than half the year eating a litany of food many of us wouldn’t consider edible. His journey, however, is not about his ego, exploiting a culture, or culinary conquest. It’s about you, me, and that guy half way around the world and how a shared meal has the power to bring us all together. Zimmern is not so much a refined bon vivant as he is a culinary democratizer.

In September, Random House released his first book, Bizarre Truth, in which Zimmern joyfully tells the stories of the people meets in his travels and the food that brings them together. As I read the book, I asked facebook friends what they think about Zimmern and I got these replies.

“I wish I had his sense of adventure!”

“I would love to have dinner with him, anytime, anywhere. I would even eat something bizarre if he were at the table with me.”

“When I actually did have cable, his show was the ONLY show I watched.”

“I have cleaned countless fish, but wasn’t till I took a cooking class from him that I ever thought to eat their roe.”

“His show is fabulous and he seems like such an enjoy-life type of guy. Except he smacks when he eats. And the mic is right there so you hear every second of it.”

I caught Zimmern in a rare moment of downtime at home. I asked him about his book, his home life, and what he thinks about healthcare, tater tots, and Rice Krispies.

Can you talk a bit about your work and travel schedule and how busy it keeps you?

I’m rarely home, which is the saddest part of what I do. I’m traveling about 30 weeks a year in support of the show. The rest of the time when I’m home I’m working on all the other things I’m involved in—managing editor of our website, blogging, writing books, doing interviews, events—all the types of things that come with the job. It’s really really hard. I don’t have days off and its challenging to keep the balance in my life.

Given how busy your work keeps you, especially being away that long from your wife and son, what makes it all worthwhile?

It’s moments like when I was in South Africa about four months ago taping a show. We were in Johannesburg in these horrifically depressing three-story barracks used as housing for conscripted Zulu and Kosa men, women, and children who were taken from their villages and put to work in the mines. Basically, they were made slaves in their own country three generations ago. The buildings are a testament to the misery of the human condition. They’re also extremely dangerous. The police won’t go into them, and if there’s a violent outbreak or a riot, they basically let everybody shoot it out and then the army goes in days later and does a clean-up operation. It’s the scariest place I’ve ever been in my life.

One Saturday night, we decided to go in to the basement of one of these buildings and hang out with a bunch of the older men. They were teaching traditional dance and music to a younger generation who had lost a connection with their familial traditions. We ended up going in and sharing our story. Over the course of the 4 or 5 hours we were there, it became a transformative experience. We had to walk through a lot of fear to get there. We were able to show up where not only had people never seen a white man in their building before—some of the younger kids had never seen a white person period. And they were very curious about us, not only sitting on the sidelines and shooting something documentary style, but actually experiencing their culture with them collaboratively. In the end, it took forever to leave because of all the bon ami and hugs in the room.

What do you make of experiences like these?

The central theme of my life these days is that we really can change lives by sharing a meal. The best way to share our cultures with each other is over a plate of food. I’m firmly convinced of this. To have a moment like that is so sweet, to show these men and women that the outside world is interested in what they have to say, think, and feel—well, it was a thrill for me.

The larger sweetness is that it all airs later on TV. A lot of people aren’t able to visit the republic of South Africa, as wonderful a country as it is. Sharing cultures like this is about as fulfilling and magical of an experience as you can ever have in doing what I do. I want to show people that the world is a broad, roomy, and inclusive place with many things that look different, smell different, taste different, and appear different from what we are used to—but, in fact, we all share a common humanity.

I’ve been really enjoying your book. I love how it reads like a colorful collection of stories you might tell over a table or at a bar—it’s just so entertaining. But I think you are at your finest when you are talking about your father because those moments are so sweet. You said you didn’t grow up in a “food as fuel” kind of family. What role did food play in your dad’s life and how did that rub off on you?

My father was a food freak. I’m a paler version of him. We would pursue incredible food in the farthest corners of the city, which in New York meant a lot of adventurous dining on a lot of different ethnic cuisines—and enjoying ourselves tremendously while we were doing it.

My father and mother also loved to cook together and entertain at home, so there were always people in our house who were interested in food. As I became older, 8 to 12, I started traveling with my father to exotic places, and he and I found ourselves in sleepy little seafood places, in Madrid and Florence, and those places . . . you know, they don’t serve chicken nuggets. Nor was I interested in them. I would come home from these trips and rave to all my friends about all the strange foods I ate.

Now, I’m more or less continuing that same spirit of evangelism for those food experiences I had as a kid. I did that when I was a chef in restaurants with young cooks and I continue to do that on TV. It’s a direct reflection of my father’s spirit in our home.

Are you also sharing these traditions with your son—and what would you most like him to learn about food?

We already started. He was 10 years old when he was eating stir-fried crispy noodles with black bean sauce. He eats tongue tacos when we’re in Mexico and he’s the first one to grab the little Mexican crickets out of the bowl. Kids in this country don’t avoid this stuff because it doesn’t taste good, but because they’ve received cultural messages that tell them we don’t eat those things.

Everyone is conditioned in some way. I wanted to ask you about that on a local level. You’re probably familiar with Barbary Fig on Grand Ave, and Haj, the wonderful, charismatic owner?

Yes, of course.

I went to his restaurant to have a tagine. Specifically, I wanted to have what I felt was an authentic experience like I had in Paris, with the whole tagine, pot and all, served to you—and that cloud of aromatic smoke that comes out of it once you take the top off at the table. Unfortunately, though, the tagine was served on a dainty little plate. It was terribly disappointing, even lifeless. So on my way out, it was late and all the customers were gone, I asked Haj about it. It turned into a 45-minute conversation about local customs, food politics, and his earnest way of running his restaurant. He kept saying, “Look up and down Grand Avenue. All you see are hamburgers and French fries. Hamburger and French fries.” So, of course, he is disappointed, too. He felt keenly aware of his compromise and obviously rather resigned to it.

Haj’s customers won’t support the tagine in that particular restaurant at this particular time. That does not mean that if he closed that placed and opened up a small restaurant over at, say, 50th and France and served the tagines that people wouldn’t think it was the most fantastic thing in the world.

The dilemma here in the Midwest for people in the restaurant business is the one of art versus commerce. Haj’s artistic and cultural sense tells him how he should serve it—you mound everything up in the tagine, put it on the stovetop or in the oven, lift the lid, and eat out of the bottom base. That’s how it’s done all over northern Africa where the tagine is from. I think it’s sad that Haj can’t package and sell the tagine the way it really exists. I believe in honest, authentic cooking that retains a people’s culture. I want to see the real thing served here, but he has employees and responsibilities to his family—and he needs to make money. Putting it on a plate and making it easier to eat with more recognizable ingredients is something chefs in the northern part of the Midwest have to do to sell a product. For better or worse, we don’t have a fully emerged food culture. We have a growing food culture here in the Twin Cities.

Do you ever get wistful when you think about outdoor global markets with all those fresh, wonderful, and sensual foods?

Yes, I love it, but I get to go to those places. I just came back from Mongolia and Tokyo, and coming up in the winter I’m going to Argentina, Mexico, Laos, Cambodia, and Africa. I don’t have that romantic sadness because I get to experience it through my work. By the same token, I came home from Mongolia last week and my wife made tater tot hotdish, which I adore, and the whole family plowed through a huge portion of it. It was heaven.

Do you find that people aren’t talking about food enough—and that we can do better when it comes to giving food the importance it deserves in this country? You listen to Obama’s healthcare reform speech, but you rarely hear a mention about how fixing a broken food system will help us lead healthier lives. Food almost seems to be the obvious missing link.

I’ll tell you right now, the healthcare debate is probably more important than the food debate, even though the two are inextricably linked. You know it and I know it. But people still don’t want to talk about it. You turn on the local news and the first seven stories are all about the weather, a local crack bust, and a goose trapped in someone’s attic. I don’t think any of those stories are important. I think what’s important is the idea that we have scores of people going hungry in this country—and that we have a food system that is trying to kill us instead of nurture us. I think those are the most important stories of our day of our time.

With Traditional Chinese medicine, you eat certain foods in certain combinations for health and wellness at different times of the year. You use the benefits of food and diet to help keep you healthy. If we just did that in our country, everyone would have the potential to live to be 99 or 100 years old—if we just changed our diet. If everybody ate healthier, a certain percentage of our “treat the disease” model of healthcare would literally disappear in a number of years. And imagine what that would do for the national health conversation. We have a broken system in this country and I don’t know what it’s going to take to fix it. Smarter people than I am I trust are working on this problem.

Do you ever miss working in a professional kitchen?

All the time. Yeah. It’s something I’ve taken a break from and I’m not sure I’ll be able to return to. But of course I miss being in a professional kitchen. In the meantime, I try to cook at home and in my show as much as possible. I’m also working very hard, so it is nice to come home and have dinner on the table. My wife is a wonderful cook.

Since I love grocery shopping, I have to ask you your favorite places to shop locally for food.

Despite the distances, I use the European model. I’ll go to certain stores, farmers markets, and co-ops, and between all these trips I cobble together our food life. The cheese store for cheese and the bread store for bread—we do Premier Cheese, Surdyk’s, Turtle Bread. I’m not a supermarket guy. Of course, I do have a family, so we make a trip once a week to the supermarket for our staple items. I am not such a terrible food freak. We have rice krispies in our house. Life is too short. Eat rice krispies!


Happy Birthday Boho

Living in the bohemian woodworker’s house has been a mysterious and wonderful experience. Last week, a woman stopped by to discuss the ins and outs of rentals and leasing — and just when I needed the advice. Before long, she invited me over to see her home and left a lovely orange persimmon on my counter.

A few days later, another woman came over with pumpkin cupcakes and buttermilk scones from May Day, a bottle of red wine, and a gift… for me. The jacket of a vintage paperback edition of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. She knows how much I love Mrs D, so when the jacket fell off of her own book, she put it in an antique gold frame and gave it to me. I was disarmed by her thoughtfulness.

Tonight, I went to a movie and dinner at Salut with friends. On my way home, jostling my things on the front walk while looking for my keys, I heard a woman shout “Excuse me! Excuse me! Don’t you just love Nathan’s house?”

I turned around and saw a lovely woman approaching me. She introduced herself as P from the salon down the street and told me how much she appreciates Nathan and his artistry. She was elegantly dressed and carrying wrapped packages as though she could be Mrs. Dalloway lost in thought walking home by herself from a party.

“Are you a teacher,” she said? No, but perhaps I have a way about me. I don’t remember how, but the conversation turned to food right away. She was happy to say she recently won a guacamole contest hosted my some official circles in town. She told me about chefs she knows, the restaurants she loves, and that she prefers Chilean and Spanish wines. We said we’d probably see each other again and I went inside to check out some of the things she had told me about.

Appropriately enough, this weekend marks the 50th birthday of this charming guy Nathan who brings so many people together. A party was being held and I was eager to see who would be attending. Since I had so little extra time to cook anything, I made one of my favorite no-cook appetizers.

  • cucumbers
  • mixed pitted olives
  • feta cheese
  • fresh mint
  • lemon zest garlic, oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes


Cube the feta and mix it carefully with the olives, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, sea salt, pepper, crushed garlic, and olive oil. (Mix the oil and garlic separately so the garlic will be evenly distributed.)


Soak toothpicks in water to take the edge off. In the meantime, peel the cucumbers, slice them in quarters horizontally, and draw the seeds out with a spoon. Chop the cucumbers into pieces roughly a centimeter thick. They’ll be a squat U shape, which is the perfect resting spot for  the plump end of an olive. Push a toothpick through a cucumber, mint, and olive, being sure to leave just about a half centimeter of space at the end of the toothpick. The feta needs to hang on, but just barely. If you push the toothpick in too far, the feta will crumble.

Pardon me and my silly iPhone picture. I was in a hurry!


Rather than placing all the spears in an organized and circular fashion on a platter, I haphazardly placed them in an old enamel bowl I got from Savers.


And that was it. I brought it over to the party with a card, a bundle of flowers, and three beautiful peacock feathers.

Life on My Own Terms

Lately, I haven’t been writing as much as I want to. Since I moved, I’ve been spending my time unpacking, painting, and finding all the right things I need for my new/old home. I also go to the gym, hang out with my friends, work from 9 to 5, freelance after hours, and try to follow my favorite blogs, catch the news, and read at least a few pages of good fiction before bed.

It feels like I’m always busy. To maximize my time, I haven’t been cooking in my usual style. I buy the same few things from Seward co-op and cook simply, almost sparely, with no fanfare and rarely a picture taken. No dinnertime Tweets. No facebook updates again declaring my love for beets. Just the simple act of making myself something to eat.

The other thing I haven’t been doing lately is dating, which puts a cramp in my favorite habit — going to restaurants. As I describe in my tagline, I love writing about how the city, dating, and food come together in amusing ways. For the last two years, I filled many posts with my renderings of boy meets girl and they go out to eat. But somewhere in the middle of my extended experiment with sociability, something inside me shifted and I pretty much lost all interest.

Do I want to find someone to spend my time with? Of course I do. In so many ways, I think I’m meant to be in a relationship. But at this point, the possibility feels so remote, I can only look at other people’s relationships and marriages with “bemused incomprehension,” to use a phrase from Tim Kreider’s wonderful post at the New York Times. He calls marriage and parenthood “an entire dimension of human experience undetectable to [his] senses.” When I think about relationships, and dare I say marriage, I imagine a vast foreign country I may never get to visit, usually somewhere near Morocco, with beautiful, distant horizons, rare luxuries, exotic spices, roasted flatbreads, and a mutual love so sweet even the hardships are painfully romantic. But if I close my eyes, I can almost feel it.

In some ways, I’m not concerned about the sizing-up, reckoning-day thing Kreider calls “the referendum,” where the personal choices we make in life are discreetly judged by the people we know. If I were, I’d be actively hunting for my perfect partner and trying to build four happy walls around us both. I’d also be checking the dial on my biological clock and wondering why I seem to be immune to its ticking.

In other ways, the referendum has come to visit. Hell, it’s set up shop in my heart and I rarely think about anything else. For me, the referendum is about personal fulfillment and finding the resolve to confront a bewildering abstraction that lives right in the middle of my life. Some people find themselves through marriage and children. Some through buying a house or a condo. Some through making a dent in the corporate world. I’ve learned that I will fully become myself through the act of creativity. For me, before anything else, I’ll be satisfied once I find my personal expression and get it out there in the world.

I just need to figure out what that is. I see a manuscript, a menu, and some old table linens. Flowers flirt together in a small glass vase on the table. I’m writing and editing at my own desk and cooking in a big kitchen. There’s open windows and exposed brick. There’s also an exhilarating sense of freedom because I know that the life I’m jealously peering into is my own.

This House Still Needs a Name

I’d rather be writing about the wine shop I discovered in my new neighborhood today, curated carefully by a guy who calls himself the Cork Dork. Or about the perfect grocery shopping route that occurs between my house and the Seward co-op. Or about my new proximity to the May Day Cafe and their trays full of pastries, foccacia, and scones. Or about the delightful exchange that transpired over an empty box of All Clad cookware in the alley behind my house. But that’s not how it is tonight. As my friend Stefanie would say, I’ve had wine, and who wants to concentrate when they’d rather unwind?

Since I last wrote, I moved to Minneapolis, resolved a terribly frustrating housing situation, competed in a cooking contest, and took a trip to the Badlands of South Dakota. I also made an appearance on the Fox 9 morning news (of all things). I was invited to walk through “my” quiche recipe to promote Julie and Julia--you know, the quiche recipe I toiled over for years and faithfully submitted to the cooking contest to finally reap my well-deserved rewards. Truth be told, I never even MADE a quiche before I was asked to do it on the morning news.

Before getting to that, let’s take a photo tour of the last few weeks. I said goodbye to my lovely old flat in St Paul.


The apartment feels such another world now, like a different version of me must have once lived there.


I did that whole Fox 9 news thing. If I could figure out how to stream a video, I would. Please go here _ http://tiny.cc/H4Nti to watch me pretend like I knew what I was doing.


I practiced the two dishes I cooked at the Mall of America’s Julie and Julia contest.



Here’s the view from my cooking station at the mall. Those are my fabulous friends in the front row cheering me on. Everyone thought I was going to win–and so did I. Despite all my wittiness, stylish sauteing, and waxing poetic about local food (I bought all of my secret ingredients at Cossetta’s and Caspian Deli), I ended up in second place. Given that the event was about promotion and not about food, however, I’m not going to think about it too deeply. Besides, I was sent home with a 5-piece set of All Clad cookware and had a wonderful time.


So as I unpack, explore, and generally try to land squarely on my two feet again, I hope to be writing again very soon, but only after I furnish my new kitchen with a stainless steel island and a hanging pot rack. I think those things will make this house a home.

In Case Anyone Asks

Although I can see how the conclusion might be drawn, I certainly didn’t grow up in the kitchen. I didn’t eat long, lavishly home-cooked meals at the table with my family. We ate things like meat, potatoes, corn, and peas and seasoned our meals with salt, pepper, mustard, and ketchup. The division of labor in the kitchen was just as simple as our food. My mom cooked every one of our meals. My dad’s only job was to show up, mash the potatoes, and eat.

It wasn’t until I was in my first relationship that food naturally became a major part of my life. Unlike my parents, my partner and I built a strong bond through food. We subscribed to a CSA and experimented with cooking based on whatever vegetables the farm sent our way. We ‘d bring backpacks from our apartment in Bed-Sty on the train into Manhattan to load up on groceries from Murray’s Cheese, the Chelsea Market, and other specialty stores. We’d reference our favorite cookbooks (primarily Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), write down our original recipes, and play Beatles records while we perfected the sauté.

One day, his mom asked me where I learned how to cook so well. I was so surprised she asked this question that I didn’t know how to answer. Somewhere along the line, I had learned how to cook.

I often ask myself why I like cooking so much–and every time I come up with at least 12 answers. Here’s one of them. Cooking is something I can commit myself to.


I think about that fantastic scene in Julie and Julia when Julia Child, played so joyfully by Meryl Streep, and her husband Paul first arrive in Paris. Over an impossibly charming dinner, she emphatically poses a question to her diplomat husband about how she will spend her time in France: “But what will I doooo?” she implores. All she knew was that she loved to eat.

The rest is history, I suppose. Child committed herself to cooking, transformed her life, and fundamentally changed American kitchens.

So in case anyone asks, that’s why I love cooking. Creativity, passion, and determination all come together when you set out to cook a wonderful meal. It’s also something wonderful to doooo.

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Quiche

Check it out — my quiche recipe is done! I’ve been cooking all weekend to prepare for the Julie and Julia contest and for my appearance tomorrow on Fox news. I stopped by my local cooking store, too. Cook’s of Crocus Hill is getting on the Julie and Julia bandwagon with a display of everything you might need to cook like a grand dame. I took this as an opportunity to pick up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


I have to say, it’s a weird (although charming) world in there. You don’t come to this book to eat. You come to it to learn. Food in MAFC isn’t distilled down to a sexy recipe and full-color photo on glossy paper. It is, to quote T. S. Eliot, pinned and wriggling on the wall. It’s dissected and explained. Given all the time Child spends discussing her mentors in the intro, I’m not surprised. She makes you feel like you’re right there with her when she first moves to France and begins learning from the masters.

Here is my rendition of a classic French quiche. I used Child’s pastry recipe and adapted it to how it worked for me. The rest of the recipe, inspired by goat cheese, is mine.

Heirloom tomato and goat cheese quiche
Carrie Obry’s entry for MOA’s Julia and Julia contest

In this recipe, the wonderful flavors of a classic quiche complement tangy goat cheese and meaty heirloom tomatoes.

Pastry pans come in all sizes – from 3-inch party-sized shells to 11-inch entrée shells. If you are making quiche for the first time, consider using a modest 8-inch pan. It’s a little easier to handle the dough for a smaller pan.

Don’t be turned off by the list of instructions. Making quiche isn’t difficult, but it takes many words to describe few steps. Before you start, I recommend watching instructional videos at YouTube.

Pastry Crust (Pâte brisée)
Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Makes enough dough for an 8- to 10-inch crust. See MAFC for additional ratio instructions.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into smallish cubes
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt and pulse. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

  1. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow stream. You will know when it’s done because the dough pulls together to form ball in a corner of the bowl. The dough will take shape and be slightly sticky.
  2. For the fraisage (or “final blending”) stage, flour your clean counter. Put the dough on the counter and dust with additional flour. With the heel of your hand, press down on all areas of the dough until the dusting flour is incorporated and the dough forms a silky ball that doesn’t stick to your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. When ready, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and brush the inside of the tart pan.
  5. Quickly roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 2 inches larger than the pie pan. To lift the dough, fold it in half and then in half again, transfer to pie pan, and unfold inside the pan.
  6. Being careful not to stretch the dough, pick up the edges and drop the dough deeper into the corners of the pan’s perimeter. Gently press the dough into the pan in all areas. Trim excess dough by rolling the pin over the top of the mold.
  7. Line the pastry with a generous amount of foil and fill with pie weights, uncooked rice, or beans and bake for 8 to 9 minutes. Remove the foil, poke the base of the crust 2 or 3 times with a fork (or else it will balloon up), and bake the shell again for 2 to 3 minutes.

Carrie’s Goat Cheese and Heirloom Tomato Quiche

  • 2 medium (or 1 large) round red heirloom tomatoes
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 plump cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons basil chiffonade
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8-inch pastry shell


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut tomatoes into slices about 3 millimeters thick and remove the seeds.
  3. Line the bottom of the pastry shell with tomatoes in a pinwheel shape. Save the top of the tomato for the middle of the circle. If the top isn’t good to use, cut a tomato slice into the proper shape to fill the hole.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the milk and cream. Add the goat cheese in small pieces and whisk until incorporated. After a few minutes, the cheese will get smooth.
  5. Add the eggs, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper to the mixture and whisk until incorporated. Et viola! You have custard.
  6. Pour the custard over the tomatoes, being careful to leave about a half centimeter of room. (Do not use all of the custard if you have extra.)
  7. Slide pastry into the oven and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown on the top. (Feel free to place it on a cookie sheet for easy transferring.)
  8. Keeping the quiche in the pastry tin, let it sit for 10 minutes on a cooling rack.
  9. Slice the quiche and serve with salad greens and a glass of cold Lillet.


Me, a Quiche, and Julia Child

Before I get to the quiche, let me set the scene.

If you’ll remember from a few posts down, I’m in the middle of packing up to move to Minneapolis. My landlord has been showing my place and it made me realize that I never imagined anyone else moving in. I kind of hate to say it, but I secretly resent every flip-flopped young thang who has walked through the door. Maybe I’m just getting old. I guess I was thinking that once I moved out, Apartment Z would just evaporate and all of my wonderful memories of living here would fly up like confetti and fall back down to the ground to fertilize some flowers or something. Ah, no such luck.


Given that this is my last weekend here (sniff), I was just going to mind my own business and enjoy two days of meticulous packing before I move on Thursday.

Then, as luck would have it, a quiche entered the scene.

This week, I entered the Mall of America’s Julie and Julia cooking contest. I had to submit an original quiche recipe and a witty little form about why I like to cook. And egads, I was selected as one of the 5 finalists. So Tuesday, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Best Buy Rotunda, we 5 finalists get two recipes and one hour to chop, prep, and cook — and also put our own “twist” on the recipes. Whoever impresses the judges enough gets to enjoy a lot of cool prizes. And yes, I have been daydreaming about that afternoon with Eli Wollenzien creating a 5-course menu. How much fun would that be?!

If that’s not enough, Bridget Jewell, the public events coordinator for MOA, asked me if I’d like to cook my quiche recipe on the Fox 9 morning news. Of course, I accepted. So Monday morning at 8:30, I’ll be doing a little mise-en-place quiche lesson on Minneapolis-St Paul local TV. How grand. Check out this clip of Scott Pampuch and Asher Miller promoting Tour de Farm. I can do that. I love being newsworthy!

In the meantime, my adorable mom is getting star struck and calling me to ask which famous chefs will be there. She’s on a campaign to set me up with Alton Brown (she thinks I would fall for his geeky food knowledge, and she’s right) and keeps coaching me by saying this over and over, emphatically: “Tell them you want a show.” If only it were as simple as that. Then she sent me a text message that looks like this:

how about      apples or cheese

pecans pimentos or cayenne

peppe apples     cheese

I told her what the two recipes in the competition are, so she has been feeding me ideas for the unique twist I’ll put on them. I wonder she meant by “peppe” — or why she repeated those few ingredients, but in any case, it’s clear that next time I am home, I need to teach her how to punctuate on her cellphone.

So rather than packing, which I desperately need to do, I have to prepare a final quiche and one quiche en medias res, we shall say, to take to the studio — and also personalize and master two new recipes for the contest. Wish me luck!