Cake created by Melanie C. Lewis, who has been the pastry chef for several 
local James Beard award-winning restaurants. Courtesy Photo
Cake created by Melanie C. Lewis, who has been the pastry chef for several local James Beard award-winning restaurants. Courtesy Photo

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Learning to Like Vegetables

Consuming enough vegetables has always been a daily struggle, even though I consider myself to be a rabid health nut. Like most people I am enticed by the sweeter things in life such as, sampling a juicy strawberry, a crunchy apple, or a drippy chunk of pink papaya. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. In stark contrast, I was at the grocery store the other day when I came upon a large wooden bin of waxed pink and brown rutabagas. Whoa, they looked nasty. Of course, root vegetables are good for you, especially rutabagas — loaded with vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium. I tossed the ugly brown ball in my grocery cart. Maybe years ago I unknowingly ate a rutabaga in a beef stew. My mother was exceptional at concealing strange yet healthful foods inside mainstream dishes like chili, chicken noodle soup, spaghetti sauce, or stews.

About a month later, while snooping around in the veggie drawer, I spotted it. The old rutabaga tucked in the back corner between last week’s salad mix and a shriveled-up lemon rind. With a sudden burst of energy, I had the gumption to turn the pitiful thing into restaurant-style rutabaga wedges. Washing it and shaving it, then using a butcher knife typically seen in horror movies, I chopped it into long chunks. Tossing them in a bowl with a splash of olive oil, a dash of herbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper, we were good to go! After baking in the oven for about a half an hour, the wedges turned a golden brown and smelled rather sweet. My daughters were curious. After the crusty wedges cooled, we sampled them. My cautious youngest daughter took tiny, careful bites. Days later my oldest and boldest daughter showed up with a bag brimming with rutabagas and a big smile on her face, "Mom look what I bought!" Sometimes what we think are the worst things turn out to be the best!  — Sharon Carlson

A Memorable Breakfast

It had been a long, overnight flight. We landed in Reykjavik, Iceland. I was numb from being crunched into a center seat. Stretching my head to peer out the little window next to the row of seats ahead of me, my first impression of the landscape was that the whole country is a construction site. There were rocks and boulders covering the landscape. We were herded into a sleek, modern hotel just in time for the beginning of breakfast — a long, well-laden buffet including fresh berries and fruits in bowls, platters of cheese, smoked and salted salmon, sliced smoked meats and the most memorable of all: a huge selection of sliced whole grain breads that only needed to be slathered with the world's best butter. With rich, aromatic hot coffee, this was one of the most memorable and refreshing breakfasts I have ever experienced.

— by Beatrice Ojakangas, author "HOMEMADE: Finnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food"

Grandmother's Baking 

My affair with baking and pastry started when I was five years old and my grandmother would come to visit from New York, where she worked in a bakery. She would bring her starter on the plane and all the grandkids knew that as soon as grandma landed, bread was being made! 

I remember standing on a dining room chair with my sleeves rolled up, melting butter and kneading dough. Measuring ingredients “grandma’s way” was eyeballing everything and her saying, “that’s enough.” Waiting until the bread cooled off was not an option. As soon as it came out of the oven we pounced, blowing on it twice, and then stuffing the hot bread in our mouths. 

Baking bread with grandma, and her sharing stories about working in the bakery, were the highlights of my younger years. It sealed my decision to want to make baking and pastry my profession. — Melanie C. Lewis 

Pad Thai in Bangkok 

I was fortunate enough to have my first plate of pad thai in a small outdoor food stall in Bangkok. The heaping serving of steaming noodles was dotted with firm, fragrant tofu and sprinkled with green onions, peanuts, and red peppers. I ate with long, cylindrical Thai chopsticks and sipped Singha beer with my traveling companions, all of us on holiday from our jobs teaching English in Japan. I was from North Dakota, while my friends hailed from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, and England. Thai restaurants are everywhere today, but for most of my growing up years in Fargo, the only Asian food we had was Americanized Chinese. I will always have a special place in my heart and stomach for pad thai, but I'm not sure I'll ever have a serving that matches the magic of that first one.  — Jennifer Lundstrom Hernandez 

Bonfire Hot Dogs 

Food was always a big part of our lives growing up. We had very little money, but we had my mom and she was priceless. She was an extraordinary cook and baker. She could make a feast out of very few simple ingredients. We lived in the country and would have bonfires where we would roast hot dogs and marshmallows. Mom would make her exceptional potato salad with lots of onions and vinegar. My folks never really took time to enjoy themselves and didn't go on vacations, but those times around the fire with my large family of one sister and six brothers stay with me as a very happy time. We ate and played simple games and roasted the hot dogs on a hand cut long green stick. There was always a dog running around. Sometimes the simple things in life are the best. — Arlene Koktavy 

Kiwi and Asparagus Treats 

It became a summer ritual. The truck with kiwis and blueberries, radishes and asparagus, would pull into the space marked by an orange cone. At the announcement, kids would fast-walk out of the public library and line up to get a free lunch from the public schools’ summer lunch truck. They would sit outside, except on rainy days, and put anything they didn’t want in a sharing bin.  — Catherine Brennan 

Real Dim Sum 

I'll never forget my first time trying dim sum — delicious food morsels offered from rolling carts. It was so much fun to pick and sample. Much better than Costco sampling! — Monica Vohmann