an anniversary + grilled corn and herbed chowder

Three years ago I started this blog as a little project. It was something personal to work on while I was out of the workforce and raising our first son, Otis. At that time my mornings were spent walking around Prospect Park and chatting with other mothers who were similarly situated (staying home to raise their young children). Some of these mothers became close friends, but more often than not, I would find myself in way-too-long conversations about strollers and cloth diapers. I loved being a mother, but that was only part of me. Okay, a big part, but I needed to talk about other things like art, or nature, or design, or food, or politics, or films, or books - anything other than children's accessories. Simply put, I needed something new to think about other than kids during those rare moments that mine was sleeping. 
I had always wanted to learn about food: how it's grown, how it's prepared and how to make it taste good. At the time there was an explosion of food bloggers online, and thinking I might be able to teach myself something new, I decided to join the pack. And I picked up my camera...

It took me a while to find "my voice," but I've settled into a way of storytelling and writing that it honest and true to me. Sometimes when I re-read old posts I cringe a bit because the writing is so awkward and doesn't sound like me at all. But I don't delete those posts because they were a starting point, and as my best friend (who is a professor) pointed out, "It's the only way to see how much you've grown..." so I keep those old posts (and bad pictures) just where they are. 
Like I said, I started this blog three years ago because I needed it. And as I look back on the past three years I can't believe how much our lives have changed and how much this blog has evolved. It is our family journal; it chronicles the places we hike, the things we do and the recipes we make together. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only Jewish mother who doesn't have a stack of oil-splattered index cards with family recipes, and whenever I asked my mother if there were any special dishes she remembers her mother (my grandmother) making, she says, "No, not really." How could there be nothing? I mean everything about our culture revolves around festive meals and eating (unless of course we are fasting). This made me determined to create our own food history and have something that my kids can pass down to their kids...

We live in Colorado where there are bountiful farms with great seasonal produce. We bake zucchini bread and make tomato sauce from scratch. We sautee spinach for pie and grill corn and watermelon too.  We are doing these things together as a family and inviting our friends and neighbors over for meals, where we eat outdoors almost every day of the year (because Colorado is blessed with 300 days of sunshine).
This blog has also become a place where I unload some of the struggles I've faced with my role as a mother. And there are anecdotes about being in my late 30s and reflections on youth (or my early 20s), as well as growing up/and our "old" life in New York City. I'm glad I've put it all into words...
The benefits of penning Sparrows & Spatulas have been many. This blog has helped me build a wonderful network of friends. I'm privileged to know an incredible group of makers and bakers, food truck vendors and small business owners, many of whom live and work in my adopted-state of makes my life here richer and more enjoyable. Thank you! To those of you who have taken time out of your busy lives to read a few posts in my little corner of the internet, thank you for reading and thank you for all your kind words (and occasional grammar corrections)! 
I will continue writing this blog as I juggle motherhood and my relatively new career. I also hope to add some new things too, namely: 
  • Hiking Sundays: like Hiking Mondays, but on Sunday, since Otis is now in school part-time, 5 days a week.
  • Co./Co.: a monthly series that focuses on Colorado Companies that I find inspiring; and 
  • Market Mondays: in an effort to cook healthier, I will turn to our local farmers market for inspiration. 

I look forward to sharing another year with you all. Thanks for being part of my journey.

Grilled Corn and Herbed Chowder, Courtesy of Small Plates, Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga
{The soup, which started off our harvest dinner last week, is absolutely delicious. The local corn has been sweet and wonderful this year, and when you pop it on the grill all sorts of goodness emerges. This is the first recipe I've tried from Small Plates, SweetTreats and I now I see what all the fuss has been about. The soup is perfect and it will be in my summer repertoire for years to come. Happy cooking!}
Serves 4
4 ears of corn (I went with fairly large ears)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3 sprigs thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil (optional)
1. Preheat the grill. Peel and rinse corn (removing all of the corn silk, I think that's what those strands are called). Grill the corn over medium-high heat, charring the outside. It should take 8 to 10 minutes. Let the corn cool slightly and then cut off the kernels. 
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, vegetable broth, thyme, and corn kernels. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Turn the heat off and let it steep for 15 minutes.
3. In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, celery, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add the coconut-corn mixture. Bring the soup to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
4. Add the cilantro (and chervil, if using) and stir. Then serve the soup warm. 

Credits: Image of me, courtesy of Kathryn Bacalis Photography

food trucks + sriracha-spiked street corn

I'm slightly obsessed with food trucks, so it's no surprise that I'm a huge fan of Civic Center Eats. From June 4th through September 26th, two rows of food trucks serve up wonderful and flavorful dishes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. -2 p.m.

Some of the trucks have brick & mortar stores in addition to their truck(s), but some of the businesses are truck-only. And I have to tell you that I really admire the people who run these mobile restaurants. They are hard working and they operate under some pretty hot conditions...yet they always serve up great food with a smile.

I have a soft spot for the trucks, in part because I used to cook under some pretty sweltering conditions too and I would chop and sauté in a teeny-tiny galley kitchen. If you've ever lived in NYC, you know what I'm talking about- cooking quarters are often less than ample when it comes to space. I feel like there's a kindred spirit between me and these mobile chefs...and maybe, secretly, if I didn't already have a career and two boys who require lots of care and attention I would open my own food truck. Except that I'm not a chef. And I get claustrophobic at times. So I guess it's a good thing that there are lots of great chefs doing great work...

These photos were taken over the course of this summer, and while I never know what I'm going to eat for lunch, one thing is a constant. At 2 p.m., when the trucks start packing up, Theodore always insists that we stay until the very last truck has left and he's waved goodbye to everyone. And then he holds his brother's hand and leads him to the fountain at the other end of the park...

What I ate this far (there are many more trucks to try): 
Arepas: Quiero Arepas makes a Venezuelan-inspired dish by stuffing corn flatbreads. I got the hongo last week (sautéed mushroom, onion, garlic and tomato with cheese) but the domino (seasoned black bean and cheese) and the vegan option (seasoned black beans, avocado and plantains) are delicious too. 
Southwestern: Crock Spot made a delicious southwestern black bean medley over couscous with chimichurri sauce.  
Pops: Aiko Pop's Strawberry Balsamic. Oh it's good and next time I'll order two since Theodore ate most of mine. It's a great way to beat the heat.
Tacos: Pinche Taco's vegetarian options are super tasty and include hongo (mushroom) and queso al la plancha (grilled cotija, avocado, tomatillo salsa and lime).  
Ice Cream: Sweet Cow's Cookies and Cream. Heavenly.
Vietnamese: Manna From Heaven's vegetarian banh mi sandwich is wonderful. 
Panna Cotta: The Panna Cotta Peddler (on bike). The Palisade Peaches and Cream was sold out (next time!) but the dark chocolate with sea salt was mighty fine. 
Vegan: Vegan Van's Planet Rock-toffufalo wings (spicy) with ranch celery-slaw on a roll. Hit the spot! The ludacris is great too. 
Drinks: Green Giraffe has great teas and smoothies.
Cupcakes: Denver Cupcake Truck is one of my favorites. I got the pistachio and Mile Mocha High. 
Pizza: Fat Sully's- one of the best cheese slices in Denver. 

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Sriracha-Spiked Street Corn 
(or Grilled Corn with Sriracha + Cilantro + Lime)
Barely adapted from Camille Styles

This corn reminds me of an elote (Mexican corn on the cob/street food), except that here the heat comes from Thai Sriracha (which is also served as a condiment for Vietnamese pho) and not adobe/chili powder. There isn't any crumbled cotija cheese, but it might be something to consider in the future! 

4 ears of corn, shucked and split in half to form 8 pieces
extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup mayonnaise (I prefer classic Hellmann’s)
1 overflowing tablespoon sriracha sauce
a bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
a couple tablespoons chili powder (I made the corn twice, once with and once without chili powder. When I made it without powder, I used a bit more sriracha.)
3 limes, each cut into 6 slices
course flake salt, like Maldon

In a small plate, pour a bit of olive oil and roll the corn in it to evenly coat. Sprinkle all over with garlic salt.
Heat a grill to high heat, and grill the corn until slightly charred, about 5 minutes. Turn every few minutes to cook on all sides.
Then combine and whisk the mayonnaise, sriracha and a squeeze of lime juice in a small bowl.
When the corn comes off the grill, slather it with the mayonnaise mixture, then sprinkle with cilantro, chili powder (if using) and some coarse salt. Serve with a few slices of lime on the side.

the 4th of july: denver's park hill parade, blackberry gin fizz and watermelon salad

My summers, from birth till the age of 10, were spent in Upstate New York at our family's country home. My parents had a little Swiss-style cottage in a forest community of about 40 families, a few miles outside of Livingston Manor in a hamlet town in the Catskill Mountains. There was a crystal-clear lake with docks and rowboats, and over the course of several summers I learned to fish. I also became mildly obsessed with amphibians and even started a "salamander rescue farm"—whereby I removed local salamanders from their natural habitat and provided them with the shelter they needed by putting them in a shoebox in our backyard. (Don't worry, they all escaped my captivity.)

Most days would end with a barbeque dinner, topped off with chocolate milkshakes or egg creams (a NY specialty that contains neither eggs nor cream). It was bucolic, peaceful and picture-perfect Americana. Very Norman Rockwell. Very simple. And that’s what made it so special.

I always think about that house and our summers Upstate around this time of year. The annual 4th of July fireworks show was legendary and we couldn’t wait for America’s birthday to roll around.

After I became a mother I began to consider tradition more intensely. I wanted to find things that we could predictably do year in and year out. I started thinking about ways to build memories with the hope that one day, when my boys are my age, they will look back upon those summer nights and holidays with the same fondness as I do. I wanted to find something that had a simple small-town feel (even though we live in the city of Denver) and we found it at the annual Park Hill July 4th Parade.

In addition to the parade, we’ve also adopted the tradition of watching fireworks downtown…on a great big blanket, under the stars, surrounded by friends and those gorgeous Rocky Mountains.

Happy Holidays!

There’s no better way to celebrate the Continental Congress's adoption of the Declaration of Independence than by imbibing on a seasonal blackberry gin fizz cocktail. I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit and it totally hit the spot. My only regret is that I didn't make more. I used market blackberries, pureed them in sugar, strained the seeds away, added fresh lime juice and some gin. My only adaptation to the BA recipe was the addition of a big splash of lemonade. 

Blackberry Gin-Fizz (Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, July, 2012)
Makes 8, or 4 for my friends!
1 6–ounce container blackberries

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups gin

1 cup fresh lime juice

Club soda

8 sprigs Thai basil or sweet basil
Lemonade (good quality store bought or homemade)

Purée blackberries and sugar in a blender. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Strain purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher (there will be about 3/4 cup); discard seeds in sieve. Stir gin and lime juice into pitcher.
Divide drink among ice-filled glasses; top with soda. Add a big splash of lemonade. Garnish each with a basil sprig.

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This light, flavorful, seasonal salad is perfect for a summer picnic or a 4th of July BBQ. For a different twist you can add a splash of orange juice, some julienned mint, a tiny bit of minced shallot and a drop of honey. Agave syrup is also a nice addition.
Here's the recipe I went with...
Watermelon Salad with Feta and Arugula (Adapted from GiadaDeLaurentiis)

1 (2 pound) piece watermelon, rind removed and flesh cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 (4-ounce) block feta cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 packed cup arugula (the original recipe uses watercress)

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a salad bowl, combine the watermelon, feta cheese, arugula, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss. Serve immediately and enjoy.

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Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Tortilla Salad and the great Rocky Mountains

I came across this recipe while I was browsing food porn, I mean photos, on Pinterest (my latest guilty pleasure). I immediately "pinned it" to one of my boards. Then a few weeks later I found myself at the farmers market where fresh corn and corn tortillas were being sold. Excellent! There were also tons of mushrooms. I bagged about 2 cups of shitake...perfect for this dish.
The recipe is from New York based chef Aliya LeeKong. It is bright and "filled with end of summer flavors" - using fresh farm corn and grape tomatoes. It's very easy to make and incredibly flavorful.  
I've been getting into Mexican-style dishes because Mexican cuisine is a big part of Colorado cooking. There are chiles everywhere, so finding a nice looking jalapeno isn't very difficult. Fresh cilantro and some queso fresco top this little number off. It's the perfect lunch bite.  
Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Salad (Adapted only slightly from Aliya Lee Kong)
Yields 2 servings
4 corn tortillas (the thinnest you can find)
Butter and olive oil
1 1/2 cup shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
12 grape tomatoes, halved
small handful of cilantro, chopped
farmer’s cheese or queso fresco
salt and freshly ground black pepper
The first step is to make the tortilla “bowls.”  Rather than deep-frying to achieve pliability and moldability, I like to go a bit healthier and just use a skillet with a touch of butter and/or olive oil to get similar results. While doing this, you’re going to use small bowls that fit inside each other to mold the tortillas.  They will not turn out as crisp (and using thinner tortillas will help), but this method makes me feel better about calling this a salad.
Simply heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the tortilla and flip at intervals until it puffs and browns a bit.  You’ll feel the edges start to get crispy.  At this point, add a ½ tablespoon of butter or olive oil and let coat the tortilla.   Place a small bowl upside down on a cookie sheet.  Remove tortilla carefully and place on top of the overturned bowl.  Take another bowl, overturned, and put it on top.  It should mold the tortilla to the shape of the bowl and hold it in place as it cools.   Repeat for remaining tortillas, and let cool while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat, and add another tablespoon of butter with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil.  When the foam subsides, add the mushrooms and let sit undisturbed in a single layer for about 2 minutes.  You want to develop a nice, golden brown on the mushrooms and bring out the flavor.   Stir the mushrooms and sauté for another minute or two to cook through.  Add salt at the end to taste and, using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl.
Add another tablespoon or two of butter or olive oil to the pan.  Add shallots and jalapeno and a bit of salt to draw out the moisture.  When shallots are translucent (about 3 to 4 minutes), add corn kernels and tomatoes and toss to mix thoroughly.  I like to crank the heat up a bit here to develop a more roasted flavor to the corn, but be careful because the corn can start to pop a bit.  Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until corn is cooked through and tomatoes have puckered a bit.
Remove from the heat, toss back in the mushrooms, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and add some chopped cilantro, reserving some of the cilantro for garnish.  Spoon mixture into tortilla bowls and dollop farmer’s cheese or queso fresco to your heart’s content.  Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve warm or room temperature.
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Colorado is an exceptionally beautiful place. We are fortunate to live about a two hour drive from Rocky Mountain National Park. I fell in love with our National Parks when my parents took me and my brother on a cross-country road trip. We were 11 and 10, respectively.  It was kind of Ken Burns meets National Lampoons Vacation. It was very memorable!
Since that trip almost, um, 25 years ago (eek!), I've been to Glacier, the obscure and kinda-hard-to-get-to Big Bend National in Texas, Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Painted Desserts,  Grand Tetons,  Olympic National and Mt. Rainier. For some reason the Rocky Mountains eluded me. Until now.  
I was thrilled when we decided to take an ambitious day trip to the park. For 'normal' people, a 4 hour round-trip expedition wouldn't be such a big deal.  But for us that is something exceptional since we have a 2 year old toddler and an 8 week old in tow. But we did it.    
The fall foliage was incredible. The Aspen trees were beautiful. And the Elk were mating so they were everywhere.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE.  They were on the highway, the golf course, in the park and by the river.  There were females, young calves and giant males with massive antlers. It was quite a show. As my husband and I were watching the herd cross in front of our car, Otis woke up from his afternoon slumber. He thought it was pretty strange to see the animals all over the road. With his eyes bulging he screamed out, "Moose!  Moose!" Close enough. We told him that they were Elk, he thought about it, and then he screamed, "Elk! Elk!" It was priceless. 
Below are a few shots from our outing...
From the car window...

Sweet Home...Colorado: Sweet Corn Chowder

The boxes have (mostly) been unpacked and we decided to hit the ground running. I had an intense desire to check out the food scene here in Denver and I was really excited to try new places and a different cuisine. We got right down to business and ate the ubiquitous smothered breakfast burrito with green chiliIt was delicious- great heat, wonderful flavor. 
I'm lucky because I live in the Highlands neighborhood, right near Burrito Giant. Normally green chili is made with pork and it's hard to find the sauce without any meat product. But Burrito Giant has an out-of-this-world vegetarian chili (which can also be spelled chile- both ways are acceptable.) Theirs is one of one of my favorites so far. 
The weather here in Denver is almost always sunny and you can get really hot when you're standing in the sun. I found that Little Man ice cream is the perfect way to cool down. I also sampled some Liks Ice Cream inside my local bookstore, the Bookery Nook. Not too shabby. 
Alright, so we had great Mexican food, local dairy treats but I needed to be sure I could find Italian provisions and sweets. Coming from Brooklyn I wasn't sure anything could live up to L&B Spumoni or Lioni's. But we checked out the local Italian neighborhood called Wheat Ridge, which is right over the Denver city line-- so not too far if I need fresh mozzarella, tiramisu or a killer tomato sauce. We found an extremely authentic place called Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery. I'm happy to report that their cannolis were dynamite! 
We also went to one of the local farmers market on Saturday. It was crowded, but there was plenty of space to move around. The market has ready-to-eat food (from trucks and stalls), cheese, crafts and locally produced fruits and vegetables. I saw this really cool food stand and wound up getting a fantastic pinto bean and cheese pupusa to start things off. It was served traditionally, with curtido- a lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar, and a watery tomato salsa. Then I got some fresh fruit and one of the best freshly squeezed (organic) lemonades I've had to date. And I drink a ton of fresh lemonade!  
I picked up tons of farm-fresh vegetables including, arugula, beets, tomatoes, potatoes and corn. The corn was sweet as could be and I decided that I wanted to make a chowder. I remembered seeing this recipe (below) and decided to make it. Potatoes, sweet corn, thyme and cream. It's fantastic! Enjoy.

And now for the Sweet Corn Chowder...

Sweet Corn Chowder (Courtesy of Tyler Florence)
2 tablespoons butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups canned vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
6 ears corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).
Cut the corn kernels off the cob (I always cut them into a big bowl) and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. Stir in the parsley and give it another little drink of olive oil. 

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And here are a few shots from our first week in Colorado for those of you who are checking in on us from New York City. We took two excursions, one to Red Rocks and one to Garden of the Gods...