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march sunshine

March is a fickle friend, isn’t it? On my birthday in 2007, we had a blizzard that left us buried under 18″ of snow. Way back in 1991, I recall it being 67 degrees on my birthday. This year? We had temps in the 40′s, plenty of warm sunshine and slush covering the ground as we made our way out for my celebratory dinner. March, the month that supposedly comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, rarely seems to be able to make up it’s mind as to what it hands us. It’s the month where we officially hang up Winter, and turn to Spring, eyeing our wardrobe and wishing for the right weather to break out the lighter side of ourselves.

With the stretch of days drenched in gorgeous sunshine, and me fingering the short sleeve shirts in longing, there came yet another craving I haven’t known in some time, perhaps a harbinger of the changing season. It was the desire to not only shed the weight of winter clothing but the heavy and comforting draw of it’s food as well, replacing it with those that snap and crunch in their remarkable shades of green. I really wanted a salad.

Likely spurred on by the current issue of Saveur magazine, and it’s ode to the chopped salad- just in time for Spring!- I took one long glance at the Cobb Salad pictured and my mind high-fived my stomach, both in hearty agreement that it was indeed necessary to create. Right away.

The Cobb Salad was named for Robert L. Cobb, credited with inventing it at his famed Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles in 1937, and made up of chicken, bacon, avocado, blue cheese crumbles, tomato, hard cooked egg, chive, watercress, romaine and iceberg lettuces. It’s now a standard on so many menus, often in a wide array of options, most of them a far cry from the original version.

This time of year I tend to get a lot of food fatigue, and indecision about what my body is needing to eat. I’m tired of winter and it’s stews and braises, of it’s root vegetables and tubers, the lack of fresh options and choices. I want to wash the mittens, hats and scarves and then pack them away. I crave berries and peaches, bare skin and white wine. I am beginning to paw through the Spring clothes in my closet, wishing for the warmth to wear just one item, especially those bought on sale last Fall, many with price tags still attached. I think about pedicures and exposing my toes again. I yearn for the Markets to open, bearing tables of new potatoes, spring peas and the first tender bunches of spinach. The buckets of lettuce soon follow, overflowing in green, and mine for just a few dollars. Seed catalogs tempt me. I want summer foods, long warm twilights sipping rosé, a simple sheet thrown over me at night.

So the salad craving was not a surprise, nor pushed aside, even though the greens came from the store and lacked the flavor of the earth. I splurged on good Nueske’s bacon and burned some aromatic candles to freshen the house. Next time Nueske’s and I meet, it likely will be high summer, alongside crimson orbs of fresh garden tomato.

The salad served me well, filling the need for somewhat lighter fare, yet hearty enough to stick with me through the afternoon hours. The bacon doesn’t exactly make this the healthiest option, but it works for an occasional treat, and the mix of flavors just seems to work. I can’t say why the tang of blue cheese, smoky bacon, moist chicken and creamy avocado make for such a pleasing plate of flavor, maybe it’s the carnival of tastes going on at once, a culinary samba that relentlessly entertains your mouth. I sure know that I need waking up from the snow, hearty foods and sweaters, my metaphor of winter. My tastebuds seem to as well. Here’s to more salad, and increasing temperatures, all things Spring and sunshine.

oatmeal pancakes

I hope that I never get to a point in my life where I think I’ve seen it all. Especially when it comes to pancakes.

If I had to pick a favorite breakfast option, pancakes might be fighting for top billing. While I do really enjoy pan roasted potatoes, especially with onion and pepper and topped with a soft egg, there is something so versatile and endlessly appealing about the simple pancake. With your standard batter, you can create an enormous palette of tastes and flavors- apple and spice, banana and pecan, chocolate-cherry, blueberry buckwheat, peach with almonds, mango and coconut….. I mean, wow. What can’t you put in a pancake? Or maybe more so, what wouldn’t you put in??

Oatmeal is the same blank breakfast slate. A simple bowl can be doctored in dozens of ways, and yes, many of them in the same manner as listed above. They all work, so why wouldn’t oatmeal and pancakes work together? I’m here to tell you, with much enthusiasm and horn-trumpeting that they absolutely do. It’s a happy breakfast marriage.

These oatmeal pancakes, courtesy of Molly, were the epitome of hearty and satisfying, and so easily zipped into what breakfast should be all about, with maybe the tiny exception that you have to plan just slightly ahead with this recipe. While you probably could use quick oats and get away with it, I strongly recommend using the thick cut version to get the best affect that these stick-to-your-ribs cakes can offer, such as a breakfast that lasts for a good long time. Really, there isn’t much point to eating in the morning if your tummy doesn’t remember it even a few short hours later.

And there’s no better idea on a chilly Saturday morning than to pull a bowl of soaked oats from the fridge and quickly mix them into a substantial batter that sizzles from your griddle, filling the house with the aroma of ‘Come and get it!’.

If you’ve ever had Baked Oatmeal, where you mix your oats with eggs, brown sugar and spices and bake them into a thick pudding, then the flavor of these pancakes will be familiar to your mouth. The oats, so soft and tender from their overnight soak in buttermilk, bake into a firm pancake that happily soaks up your maple syrup. I’m really not up for much on any given Friday night, and I owe all the remaining energy from the week to dinner prep and a bit of couch time with Netflix on Demand and my two favorite guys, but I somehow managed to stop myself from climbing the stairs to my bedroom, at 9:15 no doubt- and whoa does that make me sound OLD-  and instead turning around to the kitchen to prep the oats for the next morning. I even washed and grated an apple into the mix, shredded in some lemon zest and then cleaned up my little mess. That’s motivation. It made the trip up the stairs to bed even better knowing that I was set for morning, because, you know there’s just something about Saturday morning that begs and whispers just the slightest bit for something special, something that clearly says “Oh yes. It’s the weekend.”

Oatmeal Pancakes

2 c. rolled or thick oats
2 c. buttermilk (or like I did, soy milk with lemon juice and zest mixed in- yum!)
3/4 c. AP flour (I subbed whole wheat)
2 T. sugar (I used turbinado, but brown I think would be best)
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
1/2 t. sea salt
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 c. melted butter (equiv. to 1 stick. I only used 4 T., or half a stick and it was almost too much for my taste)

The night before, mix oats and buttermilk in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight. In the morning, remove from the refrigerator and stir gently.

Blend the flour, sugar, powder and soda and salt together in a large measuring cup. Add the eggs and melted butter to the oat mixture and stir well. Then gently fold in the dry ingredients. Do not overmix.

Heat your griddle or skillet and add about 1/4 cup of the batter. Allow to cook until browned on one side, then carefully flip and cook until golden brown on the second size. Serve topped with maple syrup or fresh fruit.

KATE’S NOTE’S- There isn’t much that I think can improve these pancakes, but I do feel that a bit of cinnamon and fresh grated nutmeg would really be stellar. As I mentioned, I grated an apple into the oats the night before. It could also be done in the morning too.

What’s that, you say? Ajvar? Is it AHJ-VAR? AGG-VAR? How do you say it?? And what the heck is it?!?

It’s delicious, delightful, piquant, sweet and when spread on a toasted pita, a tiny slice of food heaven. The origin is Balkan in nature, and it shares it’s etymology with caviar, although there is no fish roe involved.

And it’s pronounced EYE-VAR. As with most foods that pass through this little blog of mine, it has a story. A pricey one. And it goes like this.

I love ethnic foods, and the more eclectic and unique the ethnicity is, the better I like it. I’m happy to browse any manner of unusual food market I come across, my eyes trailing the shelves, fingering the ingredients found there and trying to determine if I know what is is, first and foremost, and if I can take it home and use it. I am so blessed to live in a very culturally diverse city, and within many channels and pockets of the population one can find amazing stores full of ingredients that will elevate simple home dining. In the middle eastern market that I frequent in Columbia Heights, where the pita bread is often so fresh that the bags are still warm, I came across a jar of a bright red condiment that caught my eye. Roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, garlic, oil. Oh my, what’s not to love? Despite the hefty price tag, I took one home. Big mistake.


I toasted some of that wonderful pita bread and slipped it through the bowl of bright red Ajvar in front of me, lifting it to my mouth. I was lost. I fell hard and fast for this sweet, somewhat spicy and cool relish. Mixed with a bit of plain yogurt, I could eat it night or day. And I did. I made pilgrimages back to that market for more bread, for more Ajvar. The price always got me, but I forged on. I loved the stuff. But like all good things, bested as they can be by economic downturn, I had to suspend my tastebuds desire for it and stop driving back to that store to buy another jar.

But I didn’t forget. There would be a day to enjoy it again. I was certain of it.

Like for many, that economic downturn hasn’t really let up it’s grip on us, and being the case, I’ve yanked up the bootstraps and found ways to further stretch the dollars and yet not go without some of the foods I really love. But it took coming across a superbly simple recipe for Ajvar to prompt me into actually making this at home.

What could be simpler than roasting vegetables to a nice rich blackened state and running my big knife over them? Because, you know, when looking at this, I yet again get that feeling that I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Ajvar
recipe source unknown (somewhere in Internet land)

1 large eggplant, sliced in half the long way
2 red bell peppers, split in half and de-seeded
2-4 garlic cloves (optional)

Preheat oven to 450° and adjust one rack to the lowest level in your oven. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. Place the vegetables cut side down on the sheet and lightly mist the tops with cooking spray. This is optional, but I find it helps with the charring.

Roast the vegetables on the lowest rack until the tops of the peppers are black and wrinkly, and the eggplant has softened. Depending on your oven, this could take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, or maybe more. Check regularly to monitor. If your house is like mine, you may need to de-activate your smoke detector. This is a fragrant and hot process.

Remove the sheet when the veggies are ready and allow to cool completely. At this point, you can either place them in a food processor to blend, or simply mince them on a cutting board. I used the cutting board and my big chef’s knife. It took me about 2 minutes. Place minced veggies in a bowl, add about 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want it spicy, feel free to add crushed red pepper, or if you can find it,  ground szechuan peppercorns would be amazing in this. I prefer mine on the mild side. It can be served room temperature, but the flavor will develop after a day or two in the fridge.

Eat it with toasted pita, carrots, or spread on hearty crackers. It tastes wonderful when mixed with a little plain yogurt too. I also think it would be delicious served over pasta.

celebrating

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

I used to really dislike my birthday, take the day off work or school, not tell anyone and simply just let the day pass, maybe taking the phone calls from my parents or siblings but that’s it. I never enjoyed it or wanted to celebrate. Somewhere along the way, thankfully, that shifted. And now I love to celebrate my birthday.

I doubt that it has much to do with that increase in age, the point where you can look around you and see others in your age bracket that have left this life, although that can be awfully sobering. Death is capricious at best, a random event that is out of our control. We can take steps to push it ahead of us, to keep moving and living life while we’ve got it by the reins, but when it comes to us, we are usually powerless to stop it. I’m not grabbing my birthdays with two hands in an effort to stave off the inevitable. I guess I just realized that there was no use attempting to avoid March 1st. It will arrive whether I want it to or not, and it will never be that my birthday isn’t happening. So I accept and embrace.

And even rejoice in it.

Last year I threw a huge party and it was mayhem, chaos and beauty. It exhausted me, inspired me and lifted me up. I loved every minute of the noise and crowd in my house, the people who came to help me celebrate and all the hugs and love that came my way. It was glorious. This year, however, there will just be a quiet celebration with my guys. I did ask for one thing though.

Because there just can’t be a birthday without cake. Chocolate cake. The Teen, hopefully, will be able to pull it together before we head out for a celebratory dinner at Brasa Minneapolis Monday night. That and a scoop of mint chip ice cream on the side and I’ll happily tell everyone that it was the best birthday ever. Because it is. Right now I feel like I am in the midst of some astonishing happenings in my life- people are coming out of nowhere and entering in to life with me, and I’m thrilled that they can show me more discoveries, more ideas, brighter outlooks, infinite joy, laughter and limitless potential. I came into 2010 thinking that it was going to be different, that something tremendous and wonderful was going to happen and it hasn’t disappointed. It’s definitely a cause for celebration. My friends, old and new, I thank you for being here with me, celebrating life and enjoying every moment.

So, will you raise a glass with me?

thinking of food rules

These days, the buzz words of anything food or culinary related seem to center around the latest thing Michael Pollan has talked about. I’m no MP basher- I like the guy and I even willingly watched ‘Oprah’ the day he was on it because I think he’s got his finger on the right idea. But, and forgive me, he isn’t the last word in what we put in our mouths. We are. You are. Everyone needs to take their food rules to a level that works for them.

I haven’t read this book. I probably will when the hype over it lessens and it sits on the library shelf all by itself. It’s not long and it isn’t complicated, and from what I’ve seen, it’s chock full of sound advice. “Eat food that comes from a plant, not food that’s made in a plant” or something to that extent, is pretty clear. The more natural, the better. We all know that buying products with an extensive list of unpronounceable ingredients just isn’t good eating. We know that factory farmed meats are not the best option for our bodies. Vegetables are laden with pesticides. Sugar is hidden in everything. Every single day we’re bombarded with news about our well-being, proper nutrition and health crises that are out of control. People lament “I don’t know WHAT to eat anymore!” And to this I just say ‘Stop.’

We need to make our own choices. And we need to be content with those choices, both with what we bring into our homes and that which we see around us. Some of those choices may not be practical for everyone, and we need to remember that we’re not all the same.  We’re raised to be who we are, each with our own fingerprint, our own set of values and our own means of taking in and digesting the world around us.

My food rules have changed dramatically over the past few years, and I have a lot of ideas about how I want them to be different, but given our current financial situation, I’m not doing absolutely everything that I want. Some day, perhaps. I need to pick which ones, right now, are most important to me, are within my budget and my desire to live healthier.

Simple to address; eating out. We don’t do it much at all. I’m a very good cook and as much as I love to have someone else prepare my meal, I know about raw food costs, and sometimes menu pricing makes me irate so I protect my blood pressure by staying home. It protects my budget too. When we dine out, I like to go to restaurants that prepare food I tend not to make, so we frequent ethnic restaurants. And a few tried and trues places that make a 15-year old boy and both his parents happy. That’s not an easy challenge. We don’t eat fast food, but we’ve gone to Chipotle, Baja Sol, Davannis (local chain that serves pizza and hoagies) and Mavericks (local shop that makes killer roast beef sandwiches). Those places are OK by me, on occasion. I don’t make it a habit by any means. And it’s at those places where I tend to drink the only soda I ever consume. We don’t drink soda at home. If my son wants it, he spends his own money on it. I don’t like it, but it’s his choice.

At home, I make most everything from scratch, but I don’t make my own pasta sauce. I’ve done it from scratch and it’s fine, but the overall cost of ingredients can be staggering so I buy a good quality jarred option. I avoid any products with MSG as I am highly sensitive to it, and am adamant about avoiding high fructose corn syrup and any kind of trans fat. I love Wheat Thins, but they have HFCS. I love Ritz crackers too- again, HFCS. I buy some boxed cereals but they tend to be healthier options, occasionally a sweeter version hits my pantry, but I don’t eat cold cereal much, so when I do, it’s more like a treat. I buy and eat a lot of oatmeal, and get the thick cut version, basically one step down from Steel Cut, and I like the hot cereals from Bob’s Red Mill. We don’t eat frozen meals, frozen pizza, or boxed meals; I buy the best yogurt I can without artificial sweeteners. I make pancakes and waffles from scratch, and all my baked goods are from scratch. I don’t use cake mixes, and have recently decided that I need to stop using refined white sugar so I’m researching alternatives- thanks Angela!!  I started making almost all of our bread, using the Healthy Bread in 5 minutes book, and we make pizza dough from scratch. We love the flavor of the bread, it’s better for us, and cuts back on the cost of packaged. I’m very diligent about reading labels, and buying products that contain recognizable ingredients. My son loves to snack on Nachos, and I will buy jarred salsa only with fresh ingredients. I’m sure I could make my own but I don’t. That’s my decision. Sometimes those decisions are simple. Other times, they’re not so cut and dried, and I wrestle with the best way to choose.

We eat meatless as much as possible, and that’s hard because you all know that I refer to my boy as The Carnivore. He thinks that no meal is worthy without meat. I’m happy that he loves black beans, as beans and rice is a cheap meal that is nutritionally sound. He’s pretty good about eating what I make even if it isn’t his favorite; the alternative is to make his own dinner, and he’s just a tad too lazy for that. I don’t argue about the food he wants to eat. Up until a few years ago, he never made a stink about our meals, but now that he does, I feel it’s just his way of trying to control what he can. I don’t fault him. I know the ground work has been laid, and living by example is just fine with me. We eat cheese, but don’t drink milk. I use soy milk for coffee, cereal and baking and buy a soy based sour cream and cream cheese. I use butter and sometimes Earth Balance soy based butter. We buy only whole bean coffee of good quality. I don’t use canned goods other than beans, tomatoes, coconut milk, and pumpkin. I use olive and canola oil. I do not use margarine, I’ve got a container of non-hydrogenated organic shortening on hand for those recipes where it’s a must, and I basically sub whole wheat flour for all-purpose so much now that I won’t be buying AP once the current bag runs out. I utilize whole grains like farro, wheatberries, millet and barley, we eat a lot of nuts and plenty of vegetables. I prefer to buy some of my produce as organic, but it isn’t necessary that it’s all that way. During Farmers Market season, I buy almost all our vegetables from the markets.

And like I said, there’s lots more I wish I was doing, but this works for us, for now. I’d love to hear your personal food rules- what you eat, what you avoid, what you wish you could be doing. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, don’t you? My quick on the draw friend Barb already has hers up on her blog. Feel free to put yours in my comments.

making lentils lovely

There are certain foods that are superstars of nutritional value, simple to prepare and easy on the pocketbook yet are really kind of ugly ducklings in terms of aesthetics. If we eat with our eyes first and foremost, and if we didn’t know that these foods were not only powerhouses in being good for us AND very tasty as well, we would take one look at them and likely turn away in scorn. Take lentils for example. These tiny legumes are so rich in the good things we need for our bodies. But I imagine there’s a huge population of people simply turned off by their unfortunate lot in the food world beauty contest. Cooked to perfection and placed in a bowl, they resemble more a pile of mud than something amazing you want to eat.

Now doesn’t that sound delicious?! Can’t wait to dig in!

I do get it. Really, I do. If it wasn’t for the copious amounts of fragrant dhals and mounds of aromatic Indian food that I’ve come to adore in my life, I might not exactly be in the Lentil Fan Club. But I am. And I think that everyone should. As legumes go, the lentil is one that you can take from dried form to beautifully cooked with hardly a second thought. Even the largest brown lentils will cook up nicely in about 20-30 minutes, the smaller pink and red ones turn delightfully smooth even faster, making the lentil a smart choice to keep on hand for a hearty meal. With added vegetables, it turns into a perfect soup. Served over rice, maybe with a salad and you’ve got a complete meal. Add in one of the heady fragrant spices of Indian cuisine, such as fenugreek or cumin -or in this case, both- and you’ve got a delicious creamy, slightly spicy and overall compelling meal with little more than boiling some water and a measuring spoon or two.

By far and away my favorite lentil is the French Puy, also known as the French Green lentil. It’s smaller than the brown, larger than the more colorful red and pink and will also cook up easily, all the while retaining it’s shape more without turning mushy. While the mushy lentil does have it’s place, I really prefer some texture to them. The Puy has a somewhat higher price tag than the brown, but I think it’s worth it. The flavor too, is deep and earthy, a bit more intense over the somewhat gritty taste I’ve come across in the brown.

My first exposure to lentils was as a wee lass in elementary school. Our schooling, up until I was in 5th grade, centered mostly around a loosely defined cooperative that rented space in an old Catholic school building. We had some pretty progressive education, I guess these days it ties in best with home schooling, and one year we did volunteer work at the Renaissance Festival in a soup booth, making both Beet Borscht and Lentil Soup. I did not like the lentil soup much, but I was a kid. Forgive me for thinking it was odd among my usual repertoire of fish sticks and Rice-a-Roni.

Then in college, I had a roommate for a time who was a vegetarian and loved to cook. On occasion I would tag along with her on her trips to The Wedge Co-Op, back in the long ago days when it was so tiny that barely two people could stand in any aisle. I often had no clue about the foods she would buy but I asked her endless questions and when she cooked she would share some of her meals with me. One meal was lentils, and although I didn’t fall down in love with them, I had a better idea of them than what my childhood memories had given me. Still, it took cementing my love of Indian food for me to begin actually making them at home. Once I did discover how good they could be, really there’s no stopping me now. If only I could convince The Teen to try them.

One of these days, maybe.

Dhal with Green Lentils
adapted slightly from The Curry Book by Nancy McDermott

1 c. french puy green lentils, rinsed and sorted
4-5 c. water
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. fenugreek seeds, crushed
1/2 t. ground cayenne
2 t. cumin seeds
3 cloves finely minced garlic
2 T. finely minced fresh ginger
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 medium tomato, chopped

In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of the water and lentils to a boil. Skim off any foam that may form. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the turmeric, fenugreek and cayenne. Allow to simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender- approximately 25-35 minutes. You may need to add more water as the lentils cook to prevent them from sticking.

When lentils are tender, heat a small skillet over medium heat with oil of choice. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they become dark and fragrant, and begin to pop. Add in the onion, garlic and ginger and reduce the heat, sauteing gently and stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir the mixture into the lentils and blend well. If the lentils are soupy, you can raise the heat and simmer the mixture to reduce the liquid. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn and stir it to keep blended. When cooked to your desired consistency, stir in the tomato. It will thicken slightly as it stands. Season with salt if desired.

NOTE: It’s unlikely you can find fenugreek in anything other than seed form. To crush them, use a dedicated spice grinder if you have one, or place them in a sealed plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer or other hard implement. The seeds are pretty solid. Don’t be surprised if doing it by hand requires slight effort. It’s totally worth it for the flavor.

This dish definitely gets better with some time to sit in the fridge. It can be made with the smaller colored lentils but keep in mind that the cooking time will be much quicker, and it will have a different texture. One cup of red lentils will need less water, about 3-4 cups.

memories in the ashes

I’m Minnesota born and bred, raised on summer sunshine, hot dish and 10,000 Lakes. Although there are times that I wish I had the experience of living in other places, experiencing other cultures, I can’t deny my roots, the ones that run deep. My entire family is from this area and I’ve never considered living elsewhere.

Almost all of my upbringing occurred in South Minneapolis. As an adult, I migrated across the river and took on Saint Paul, learning to love it’s unique fingerprint, then I packed up and ditched the urban landscape for the quiet of the exurban living, out where frogs sing to the glory of a spring night, coyotes howl and possum wander lazily under the bird feeders (and pick the underside of your sunroom for their demise- ugh!!) Deer are pretty used to seeing humans, and vice versa. But my heart, my life and all my stained glass mosaic of childhood are firmly rooted in the 55419 zip code. There isn’t a time of my entire life, from my first permanent memories onward, that did not include the tiny commercial corner of 50th and Bryant, the two brick buildings that lined 50th Street, home to an ever-changing parade of tiny businesses. It was a nod to “Locally Owned and Operated” before anyone even knew what that really meant, or how important it was to a community.

And it simply shredded me inside to watch it burn.

All photos courtesy of Kate NG Sommers of The Heavy Table

The power of social media and the internet reaches beyond almost any scope of comprehension. I turned on my computer around 1:30pm on February 18th and took in one Tweet from the local Twitter populace that said ‘Corner of 50th& Bryant in SMpls is scene of large fire” and something clutched deep inside me. I could see the area in my eyes, and as the tweets, news videos and updates began pouring through the internet, I sat utterly transfixed with tears streaming down my face. The heart of my upbringing was so deep in that area. I sadly posted the news on Facebook and the lifeline reached out even more.

My high school is just up the road from there- Washburn High School, of which I entered in 1978 as the first Freshman class, and exited in 1982. Through the magic of Facebook, I have gotten back in touch with all of my old high school friends and they are scattered around the US, and even in other parts of the world, but when they started seeing my update, the shock and grief overflowed. As did the memories. It was a flood. Between that and the Twitter updates, the scenes of devastation playing out live in front of me, it was all I could do to keep from laying my head on my arms and weeping uncontrollably.

I lived barely 1/4 of a mile from there as a child, and as a very young girl walked with my sisters and the neighborhood girls, nickels clutched tight in our hands to the tiny store that was once in that building. The owner, a crotchety guy named Paul, always intimidated us a little, but the candy selection gave us reason to face him. Back when candy was a nickel, we got off easy at that place, gleaming through bags of Sugar Babies, ropes of Bub’s Daddy bubble gum and Black Cow suckers. One of the earliest and most painful memories of my life occurred at that store; it had a huge heavy door that we always struggled to push open, and one day as I attempted to dart through it, it slammed shut on my hand shattering the tip of a finger. It was a ugly bloody mess that dripped all over the worn linoleum floor of Paul’s store. And the stain never went away. I could go back time and again only to see the shadow of my blood on the floor. Paul eventually passed away from a heart attack, and the store closed.

There was an incredible deli in that building at one point, named Zorka & Ollie’s. It was a tiny, tiny space that made monstrous and delicious sandwiches, slathered in their signature Zorka sauce that was both spicy and sweet. It was the first place that dared to sell thick cut potato chips, and I distinctly remember the initial magnificent crunch that hit my mouth. Z&O’s had wonderful coleslaw and terrific potato salad. It was way ahead of it’s time with the fresh made flavor, variety and personal touch that everyone craves, and these days actively seeks out. A sandwich from Z&O’s was a feast.

In the corner of the building, long before Patina took root- an event I remember feeling quite ambivalent about- there used to be a store called Punky’s Corner Consignments, and long before that, a gorgeous Antique store. That antique store was where I honed my love of antiques, and of classic old china to be exact. As a young girl I would go in there with my Mom and marvel at the patterns, the delicacy and the array of beautiful dishware and serving pieces. To this day that love remains. And Punky’s was a fun, funky and odd place that you could find any manner of interesting and unique items. My friends and I could roam there for hours.

All of these memories came roaring through my head, as I watched video and took in photos of the flames eating up a piece of history.  The loss of the current businesses is sorrowful; the two restaurants were stellar destinations in the local dining scene, and at the forefront of a whole movement bringing fine dining into neighborhood pockets of the city. I don’t doubt the area will be rebuilt, but the historical aspect of that building, with it’s artistic brick work and façades can never be duplicated again. Driving through there, even with the new businesses so well established and a more modern feel to the block, I never failed to sense the tremors of history, the laughter of my friends and I, the wonder of the small child in me as acutely as if those moments were still occurring. With the collapse of the roof, and the imminent wrecking ball, it likely will all be pulled down, memories gone for good. Hopefully a new generation of locals will come to know and love what stands on that corner in the future.

Even with such devastation, two high points are well worth mentioning; other than minor injuries to two firefighters, no one was injured and there were no deaths from the blaze. And the venerable Malt Shop, in a building across a tiny alley was spared any damage. The Malt Shop holds a vast sea of memories for myself, my friends and more people than I even care to imagine. My friends and I almost lived there in high school, and the wait staff knew many of us by name. One underlying current that came in from many of my old classmates flung far and wide was the urgent need to know that The Malt Shop survived. Some of these old friends of mine left Minnesota after graduation and have returned only for visits, but the history, nostalgia and a piece of their heart is still there with me in Lynnhurst.

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