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Writer’s Kitchen: Asparagus In Celebration of Spring


As February draws to a close and spring nears, menus begin the transition from creamy, rich braises, casseroles, and stews to lighter fare celebrating the shift in seasonal food and the lessened need to eat for a sense of coziness and warmth. Winter greens mingle with spring lettuces, and root vegetables give way to asparagus.

The latter is one of my favorite vegetables, with its quick-cooking time and pretty green stalks making it easy enough for a rushed weeknight meal or elegant enough for company. Simply roasted with olive oil and salt, its toothsome texture and distinct earthy flavor shine. Steam it just until tender and serve with a brightly-flavored sauce, and you’ll take this springtime staple to the next level.


Asparagus with Tarragon Mustard Sauce
Adapted from Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, this recipe is perfect for your file of quick and easy recipes to pull out when you’re on deadline but still want something special to serve your family or guests. You can make the sauce while the asparagus steams, and the whole thing should come together in a matter of minutes.

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 pinch of sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Remove and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Steam just until tender. While asparagus is steaming, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. When ready to serve, place asparagus on a platter and pour the sauce on top.

Serves 4-6.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomatoes

Weeknight Pasta with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Kale

What are you eating for lunch today? Or dinner? I’m serious–tell me. I don’t want to hear that you’re skipping the meal because you’re on deadline and don’t have time. We all have time, even if just a few minutes while waiting for the computer to restart or while giving ourselves a 15- or 30-minute brain break.

I still remember the old days of working on the newscast at the TV station I used to work for. Whether I was writing or producing the show, there was seldom a moment from the early part of my shift until the later hours when I felt like I could even leave my desk for a moment. When I needed to fortify myself with a little food before heading up to the booth to produce the show, I’d literally run or jog from my desk to the lunchroom to get my food. And guess what? I’d run back to my desk where I would eat it, hurriedly, not even stealing a moment in which to notice the flavors right there waiting for my tastebuds to notice. That’s a sad story for a food-lover like me.

These days as a freelance writer I still work on deadlines, but I’m dealing with stories due on a given day versus needing to have a show ready to produce by a certain minute and a story ready by a specific second in order for it to be ready for an anchor to read. That doesn’t make the pressure of deadlines any less real, however, and taking the time to stop and get something to eat can sometimes feel like a chore.

Thankfully I have a lot of excuses throughout the day to cook, from having a son who depends on me for his meal preparation to being a food writer who often has to cook as part of the gig. There’s usually something in the fridge to make a quick meal out of when the child is napping and the husband is away at work. But in those times when leftovers are scarce and tight deadlines are looming, it’s good to have a repertoire of quick meals at the ready.

One of my quick meals involves canned chickpeas and other pantry staples, with a handful of fresh herbs tossed in at the end–I’ll have to share that recipe with you soon. Another is canned salmon mixed with some mayonnaise, capers, and herbs, and eaten as a salad on a bed of salad greens or on top of baguette slices. Come to think of it, I’ll have to share that recipe with you too. Do you notice a trend? These recipes involve nutritious items found in a well-stocked pantry.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today comes together quickly and makes several lunch or dinner portions, leaving you with leftovers to reheat the next day. Even if you can’t always personally justify spending a lot of time preparing a meal for yourself when you’re on deadline, I’d like to encourage you to give yourself 30 minutes sometime this week to put something delicious together. I’m speaking to myself as much as you here when I tell you that it is possible. And I’d like to share with you a simple pasta that you can put together in little more time than you need for your brain break.

Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomato Sauce
A Nooks & Cranberries original

1/2 pound rigatoni
extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 small bunch kale, ribs removed and discarded and leaves cut into thin slices
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Dried chili flakes

Bring a pot of water to a boil while you do the dishes, start a load of laundry, and work on prepping the ingredients. When the water has come to a boil, add a little olive oil and generously salt the water. Add pasta and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan until it shimmers, then add garlic and sauté until fragrant and tender (but not so long that it starts to turn golden), about 1 minute. Add zucchini and stir for a minute or two. Add diced tomatoes, juices included, and stir to combine, giving it a minute for the tomatoes to start heating up. Stir in the kale and cover, and cook until the kale is softened and tomatoes are hot.

Drain the pasta, discarding the water, and add to the pan. Stir until combined and serve with a generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes. Eat while sitting at a proper place setting–not at your computer–and then put the leftovers in the fridge and leave all the dishes and cooking equipment in the sink to soak until your next brain break.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Tea & Cookies for Your Writing Ritual

Salted Rye Cookies

When it comes to getting in the mood to write, the process isn’t a lot different, at its core, than getting ready to go to sleep. Consider the bedtime ritual: changing into pajamas, washing your face, dimming the lights, and crawling into bed to read can cue your body that it’s almost time to sleep. Similarly, clearing clutter from your workspace, responding to a couple of nagging e-mails, and finally settling in with a cup of your favorite tea and a cookie can help your brain transition to the creative task of writing.

Of course, every writer’s ritual will differ, and yours may even vary a little from day to day or change considerably from one year to the next. The important thing is consciously eliminating mental distractions and optimizing creative power. For both Sarah and me, tea is a staple in our writing ritual. Whether we’re retreating to our home office spaces or cozying up on the sofa with a blanket and laptop, having something pleasant like tea helps to set the mood.

The truth is, writing is work, no matter how fun it may be at times. So we as writers deserve a little something special to indulge in while we work. And that brings me to what I’ve been wanting to share with you: salted rye cookies. I baked a batch of these cookies a couple of weeks ago and was stunned by the range of flavors dancing in my mouth in one bite. At once, the bright flavor of citrus exploded on my tongue, accentuated somehow by the crystals of salt on the rim. As the initial flavor subsided, it morphed into a warm, soft orange and the foundation of rye gently came through.

Salted Rye Cookies

These cookies are not for the faint of heart. But if your palate appreciates cookies and pastries with a savory touch, you may find that your first bite leads to another and then another and another. As I kept coming back to these cookies it occurred to me that they would be a perfect pairing for lapsang souchong, an ancient Chinese tea imbued with the aroma and flavors of the smoking pine fire it is dried upon. Lapsang souchong is bold and serious, and not for everyone, however. If your tastes lean more toward floral or citrus teas, the bergamot streaming through a cup of Earl Grey would also complement the cookies.

Salted Rye Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious and Liana Krissoff (Whole Grains for a New Generation)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 1/2 cups whole (dark) rye flour
3 tablespoons demerara sugar

Cream the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer. Add the egg, a pinch of salt, and the orange zest, and continue to beat until combined. Mix in the flour, a little at a time, and then turn out the dough and shape it into two logs about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare your baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Combine the remaining kosher salt and the demerara sugar and spread it on a clean workspace. Unwrap the cookie dough and roll each log in the sugar and salt mixture to coat. Slice the logs into cookies approximately 1/8-inch thick and place them on the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for about 16 minutes until the cookies start to turn light brown around the edges, rotating the pan midway through baking if necessary. Remove the cookies from the pan immediately and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Easy Make-Ahead Coffee Cake for When You’re on Deadline

Coffee Cake

The art of simplicity is something I’m working on mastering when it comes to cooking. As a food-lover who bakes for fun, geeks out on taking photos of what I cook, collects cookbooks, and writes about food both in blogs and print publications, I have an eye for fancy food that’s just too time-consuming to make on an average day–especially when the responsibilities of writing and motherhood leave little extra time for complicated cooking. And that’s where recipes like this sleep-over coffee cake come in handy.

My husband and I had some friends over to watch the Seahawks game on Sunday morning, and when planning the breakfast menu, I needed items that would be quick and easy to prepare with little effort required on the morning of the event. So the night before, I hard-boiled a bunch of eggs and stirred together a coffee cake that would sit, chilling, overnight, only needing to be baked the next morning.

In addition to being prepared the night before, the cake’s batter also comes together quickly and easily. All the ingredients are stirred together at once; there’s no creaming the butter and sugar then adding eggs followed by flour here!

I’d encourage you to file this recipe away for those times when you want something special to serve your family or friends, even if you’re on deadline. I promise that it’ll take you no longer than 15 minutes to prep the night before, and no more than 5 minutes active time in the morning. Serve on a pretty plate with some fresh fruit and your guests will be in for a special treat.

Sleep-over Coffee Cake
This coffee cake–adapted from Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, from the Junior League of Seattle–looks rather simple, with a deep brown color that’s consistent from the cake to the topping. If you want a little more of a crunchy topping, I suppose you could increase the amount of nuts, but I like it just the way it is. While I’m at it, let me just say how much I love this cookbook. My mom gave it to me some years ago, and it’s one of those books that I feel confident in, knowing that virtually every recipe is going to turn out great.


2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter

The night before: Put all the cake ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer, and mix at low speed until combined. This might take several minutes. While it’s mixing, butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour the batter into the pan and spread it evenly throughout the pan with a spatula. Combine the brown sugar, walnuts, and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle over the batter. Cover and chill overnight.

The morning of: When you wake up in the morning, preheat your oven to 350 and melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter. Pour the butter over the top of the coffee cake and slide the pan into the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is a rich brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serves 8-10.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Edible Christmas Gifts, Part 2 (Homemade Graham Crackers)


How are you doing on your Christmas shopping? To be honest, I haven’t even started. I do know what I’m giving some people, but I haven’t actually done anything about it yet. With some pretty major deadlines on my calendar for November and December, and all the Christmas baking I’ve been doing, there hasn’t been a lot of time. I consider it my duty, however, to give you some great ideas for Christmas gift-giving this year, however, and I have a new idea for you today: Homemade Graham Crackers!

I came across this recipe while looking through a copy of Catherine McCord’s new cookbook, Weelicious, and decided to whip up a batch for my son. It turns out that these cookies are delicious and contain the perfect balance of crispness and softness–just like a graham cracker from a box. Even better, they can be made in any shape you like, and you know exactly what goes into them. These would make a great gift for the coworker who always brings homemade treats to work and obviously loves to bake, or perhaps for the other mothers in your playgroup. Wrap them up in a pretty cookie tin with a copy of the recipe, and you’ll be good to go! Get the recipe!

Photo originally from Outside Oslo

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Writer’s Kitchen: Finding Inspiration in Apple Pie

Apple Pie Collage
In one simple pie, the writer finds a bottomless source of memories and inspiration. Apple pie has been around since at least the 14th century, with a recipe from 1381 still available. It’s taken multiple forms across cultures, from the French tarte Tatin (Molly Wizenburg’s recipe is a winner) to the classic American version.

All it takes is a little imagination to conjure up one of the Tatin sisters trying to whip up something to serve their guests at their hotel in France’s Loire Valley, only to make a rather delicious mistake that we now call tarte Tatin. Their story is enough of a legend, with various versions of how the mistake came to be, that a writer can almost picture Caroline and Stephanie running around in a frenzy trying to figure out what to do with their mistake before having a lightbulb moment and declaring it a new culinary invention.

As for me, apple pie carries with it the legacy of generations of the bakers–home cooks and professional–who came before me, one of those being my grandma Adeline. Grandma Adeline has a reputation in the family for making one of the best apple pies around. I was honored last month to make one by her side, watching her shape the crust and collaborating with her on how much of each ingredient to put in the filling. We made magic that day, Grandma and I, as we stood side by side–generations apart yet working together on a common goal–putting the ingredients together and then watching as they morphed into something delicious.

That pie is long gone, but the memories linger on. From now on, whenever I bake an apple pie (you’ll find our recipe over at Outside Oslo), I’ll be thinking of that October evening spent with my dear grandmother. Wrapped up in the crust and baked apples will be countless memories of a woman I adore, and one who has taught me so much about baking and of love. For me, inspiration comes from memories and experiences, and thanks to my dear grandma Adeline, I have no shortage of inspiration from which to draw.

Writing prompt: What memories and stories do you have related to apple pie? Use this classic dessert as a starting place for your writing today; if you’re working on memoir, what memories do you associate with apple pie? If you’re writing fiction, have your character sit down with a slice and see where his mind goes.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Edible Christmas Gifts, Part 1

Orange-Cardamom Caramels

I know, I know, it’s probably a bit early to be talking about Christmas. After all, Halloween is just barely behind us, and Thanksgiving is still weeks away. However, one of the jobs of a blogger is to get you thinking about ideas in advance, right? In that case, I’d like to start talking about edible Christmas gifts. Whether you love lavishing your loved ones with expensive presents or your writer’s budget is maxed out right now, edible gifts are sure to touch a sweet spot in any recipient’s heart. We’ll be talking in the coming weeks about how to add a personal touch to your Christmas gift-giving. To start, I’d like to share a recipe for orange-cardamom caramels. I came up with the recipe recently and shared it in my most recent story for the Norwegian American Weekly. I hope you enjoy it!

Get the recipe

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Writer’s Kitchen: Inspiration from Sugar and Spice


Pears and Tomatoes

Sometimes you just need to bake. You need to open a cookbook, find something that you have all the ingredients for, and get to work whipping butter, eggs, sugar, and flour into some magical concoction. Maybe you’re suffering from writer’s block. Maybe you’re just hungry. In any case, a little time in the kitchen can be a great source of inspiration if you’re anything like me.


Take yesterday, for example. As I stood in the kitchen, coring pears and stirring a pot of simmering fruit sauce on the stove, words came to me as though I was writing in my head. I was spending the day baking some things I was planning to feature on Outside Oslo, my Scandinavian food blog, and the words just started coming together, making me excited to get to the computer and see what would happen.

Scandinavian Autumn Fruit Soup

As the day went on, the aroma of fruit and spice from the Scandinavian fruit soup* and the pear sauce I was making started to mingle with the deep, sensual fragrance of warm, chocolate cake.** Little did I know when I got to work in the kitchen yesterday that I was going to fill my home with the warmest, most inviting scent, the kind that makes you feel all cozy inside. If that’s not enough to inspire creativity, I don’t know what is.

*The Scandinavian fruit soup is from my latest article in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. The article–“Double-duty dishes: Autumn soups to satisfy the whole family”–is on page 36 of the October issue (the digital edition is available here).

**I’ll be featuring the recipe for chocolate cake later this week on Outside Oslo.

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Writer’s Kitchen: The Food Writer’s Moment of Truth

Salmon on Lentil Salad

Being a food writer is a scary thing–exhilarating, fun, and delicious, to be sure, but also anxiety-inducing. Especially when it involves sharing a recipe. Once that recipe is published, there’s no going back. I experienced a bit of those nerves a few months ago when submitting my recipe for Fennel-Scented Salmon atop a Lentil and Spinach Salad to Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. It was a sidebar for my article called “Craving conspiracy: Ten ways to work with your cravings—instead of against them—to give your baby the best start,” and it was my first recipe to be published in a national magazine. However, part of the job of being a food writer is testing recipes, so my family ate well as I tweaked the proportions until the flavors were just right. After months of waiting, the article and recipe are now in print in this month’s issue, and my husband and I got the pleasure of cooking from my own recipe, right there on the glossy pages, a few days ago. I’m so familiar with it by now that I can make it without following the recipe to a T, but that was my moment of truth. Guess what? It’s delicious. Phew.