rock star food with the dames

Last week, I attended the national Les Dames d’Escoffier conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and found myself surrounded by so many amazing and accomplished women. And lots of food. Because this blog is all about the food, I’ll focus on the edibles but the women at this conference were inspirations to me as a female business owner and I was honored to be a part of their four-day gathering.

The first night I enjoyed a meal at Araka, a restaurant across from the hotel that had been recommended by the St. Louis native sitting next to me on my flight. My dining companions and I ordered up drinks, then split an appetizer (lobster sliders), flatbread (braised short ribs, horseradish, gorgonzola, arugula), entree (arctic char with polenta, sun-dried tomato pesto, shaved Brussels sprouts), and dessert (bourbon peach cobbler). I was already developing camera fatigue, so only shot the sliders.

Araka’s lobster sliders

Sponsored in part by California Figs, the conference boasted mounds of these heart-healthy fruits. Breakfast and lunch often included bowls spilling over with more types of figs than I knew existed. (I’m from Minnesota, remember? Our figs are imported and usually of the Black Mission variety.)

striped tiger, brown turkey, calimyrna–figs figs figs

Also seen often at conference meals was platter after platter of cheeses. They ranged from robust to mild, salty to slightly sweet, creamy to dry, but all were divine. The slivers of dried mango (under left tongs in photo) were the perfect complement and I’ve already purchased a package of these dried fruits myself.

wedges and wheels, cubes and crumbles, slabs and slices of cheese

Especially fun for me (as I’m new on the ice cream-making trail), was the soy sauce ice cream à la Kikkoman. It was dusted with ground hazelnuts and could easily pass for a slightly smoky version of salted caramel.

Soy sauce ice cream–who knew? It really was lovely.

There was also high-end fancy fare. The food was pretty and tasty, for sure, though my favorite meals were those with the bowls of figs, platters of cheese, and a fantastic African couscous breakfast dish (keep reading!).

strikingly beautiful (and artistic) dinner–roasted veg, parsnip puree, onion-crusted beef

fancy dessert–tres leches cake, deconstructed

That couscous breakfast dish? It was magnificently simple (couscous, dried fruits, nuts) and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Quick to make, easily stored, offering good-for you proteins, carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals–an ideal breakfast, whether hot or cold. I’d bet that a dusting of cinnamon and drizzle of honey would make it even more appealing.

Tunisian Mesfouf, a.k.a. Sweet Breakfast Couscous

A smaller group of attendees toured a number of local food finds, one a chocolate factory called Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate. I loved it for its name alone, though the chocolate was over-the-top rich, sweet, and creamy, too.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate display

Another tour involved a brewery, where I enjoyed an oatmeal stout float with vanilla ice cream (yum) and a beer flight of 4 Hands Brewery pours.

4 Hands blond ale, oatmeal stout, red ale, rye IPA

All this food and drink called for morning visits to the hotel’s fitness center. In addition to their pyramids of bottled water and fresh fruit, they offered fruit-infused water. The apple-berry version on the right was a huge wow. I’m making it at home for sure. (And so should you.)

refreshing fruit-flavored waters

I’m glad to be home, though I enjoyed food magically appearing at seemingly all times at the conference. It’s up to me to put meals together now, though I’ve had plenty of inspiration. I’ll put figs on my grocery list, apples in my water, and couscous on my breakfast table. Here’s hoping you’ve been inspired to try something new as well.

food (and wine) for fun

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Credited to Confucius–much-quoted Chinese philosopher–this line first grabbed me shortly after college. What would it be like to enjoy your profession so much that it didn’t seem like work? Choosing a job didn’t seem an option; I was a new grad and just wanted someone to hire me.

Someone eventually did and I went on to hold a number of positions (food scientist, baker, coffee shop manager) before going out on my own. Yet through it all, I’ve only worked food jobs. And I can say without reservation that following your passion leads to doing what you love. And when you do what you love, it rarely seems like work.

My opening quote came to mind as I thought back on my day. Lunch was spent with a good friend, also a former client, at Wilde Roast Cafe, a Minneapolis spot known for first-rate food. My open-face tilapia sandwich was tasty and the creamy pumpkin soup plenty creamy. The kicker was dessert: carrot cake and a scoop of Surly (as in beer) gelato. Wow. (Not had on this visit, but highly recommend any of the Alaskan beers.)

The fun continued at tonight’s Twin Cities Home Economists in Business meeting. This professional organization held its kickoff fall meeting at Warehouse Winery and because it seemed the perfect date venue, I asked my husband to accompany. We enjoyed nibbles and sips as the winery staff led us through six food-and-wine pairings. From a white wine paired with cheese and crackers to a deep, dark Cabernet alongside Parmesan-stuffed mushrooms, the wines were robust and bold. The winery itself was a hidden Minneapolis gem. Housed in an industrial park (and what was formerly a motor-repair shop), its walls sported crazy-fun art along with plenty of product.

Warehouse Winery wall

pop art looks right at home alongside wine-making equipment

Next stop was a Costco next to the winery (what’s a date night without a Costco run?) and I was thrilled to find Kerry Gold butter. After this butter was recommended by a foodie colleague, I’ve tried to always have it on hand. When our neighborhood Costco stopped carrying it, I was dreading the opening of our final package. But tonight I go to sleep knowing we have six more boxes stacked in our freezer.

Irish butter–pure gold for baking or spreading

The food fun continued when I returned home to a gift of European chocolate bars from my Wilde Roast lunch friend. She’d recently taken a trip to Ireland and was kind enough to bring me two stunning postcards and six amazing candy bars. Thanks, Mary!

pretty postcards from Valvona & Crolla–famous Edinburgh food market

candy bars from UK and Ireland–can’t wait to dive in

I’ll finish the day off by reading a chapter or two from Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, a biography of Clarence Birdseye, the man credited with inventing the frozen food industry we know today. This may not sound like a page-turner, but Birdseye was a thinker, innovator, and all-around adventurer. I’d consider myself lucky if I accomplished even one-fourth of what he did in his lifetime.

My accomplishments will likely be less momentous than Birdseye’s, but I still count myself lucky to be surrounded by all things food. In my world, there are few lines between work and play and the same can be said for colleagues and friends. Confucious would most certainly approve.

camp fare

Our family recently camped our way through South Dakota–Badlands, Black Hills, and the like. I wasn’t at all sure that it would go well as our week-plus trip would be the longest we’d camped with our girls. My husband and I enjoyed camping pre-kids, but our first forays into the camping wild with babies were disasters, so we’ve been cautious with our travel plans. With our youngest at age 6, we figured we’d give it another go. And I’m pleased to say that things went extremely well.

No surprise that one of my favorite parts of camping is the food. I enjoy planning meals, packing the food, then making things happen at the campsite. For sure there are restaurant stops (lunches usually), but breakfasts and evening fare are made over the campfire or on a campstove.

Our campfire cooking was curbed as soon as we crossed over into the western part of South Dakota as their extreme heat and dry weather meant Burn Ban. S’mores would have to wait for another trip. The first night’s meal proved our camping skillet to be in sorry shape. Next trip, we’d bring the cast-iron, but this go-round we found that anything we heated, even if over a low flame and for a short time, ended up overcooked (read: charred).

Girl Scout gumbo in a skillet

Just the same, our camp meals were fantastic. After a long day of travel or a long sleep in the tent, whatever we cooked up on that stove was divine. Pasta sauce, ground beef, and spaghetti noodles; Girl Scout Gumbo and rice (my oldest, who had recently been to Girl Scout camp, took charge here); steak and veggie stir-fry with barley; hobo dinner (sans campfire, the ground beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, and bell peppers cooked in a skillet instead of in the usual foil packet); burgers and fried potatoes. But the best meal I ate? Our pancakes and eggs.

No photo of this meal as it wasn’t much to look at. But it absolutely hit the spot that morning. I’d just come back from a run and felt I’d earned a good meal. My husband had already cooked up pancakes for the girls and had (thoughtfully) left a tin cupful of batter for me so I could fry mine up fresh. I cooked up a ‘cake or two, also adding our last egg to the skillet. The stove was on a slight slant and food ended up running together in the skillet. As well, the pancake batter cooked up unevenly in our piece-of-junk skillet. Once plated, my breakfast consisted of unevenly cooked and misshapen pancakes attached to an overcooked egg. Doesn’t sound appetizing. But eaten outside, topped with butter and rivers of pure maple syrup, and served alongside my wonderfully caffeinated hazelnut instant coffee, it was absolutely the best meal I had on the trip.

Camp food aside, there are fun food spots we found while driving around SD that deserve a shout-out:

The best apple fritter I’ve ever tasted at Baker’s Bakery & Cafe in Custer City.

under glass

in our box

Huge slices of pie and an awesome birthday cake malt at Bobkat’s Purple Pie Palace, also in Custer City.

pie time

straight out of a dr. seuss book

hubby’s choice: blueberry

apple pie with moose tracks ice cream–favorite order of my 10-year-old

Bison stew (world-famous if the signage is to be believed) and Buffalo Sweat beer at the Mount Rushmore cafe.

Fine dining it was not, but fun to find beer and bison at the foot of Mt. Rushmore.

Downhome chuckwagon fare at the Circle B Ranch–roasted venison in a peppery garlic gravy, baked potato, cowboy salad, applesauce, biscuits, and ginger cake.

cowboy supper at the Circle B

Donuts (again, said to be world-famous) at Wall Drug Cafe. Wall Drug also had amazing ice cream, made in-house. I have no pictures from this stop (my bad), but cakespy did a better job than I could have, so will send you there.

Assorted truffles at Silk Fudge in Keystone.

white Russian, sea salt

I’m grateful to have taken a longer vacation with my family this summer. Its success means there will be more to look forward to, allowing us opportunity to cook the campfire meals we couldn’t on this trip. The s’mores await.