We all harbor secret fantasies of moving away, starting a café, and feeding people. Every month, Sarah Kieffer from the Vanilla Bean Blog will be indulging us with stories and recipes from the Wolners, who own the Blue Heron Coffeehouse in Winona, Minnesota.
Today: Something warm and beautiful to serve at your holiday table or any night of the week.
There were days working with Larry and Colleen at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse when the suburban in me came up against the hippie in them. My upbringing didn’t involve backyard chickens and organic eggs, ancient grains or Joni Mitchell. I was a blueberries-are-the-only-berries-acceptable-in-muffins kind of kid, who rocked out to Amy Grant and had never heard of quinoa. This meant that there were moments at work when my nose would crinkle up just a bit at peanut soup and nutty wild rice salad, as well as crystallized ginger and soymilk. (It was the late 90s. There just wasn’t that much soymilk in my neighborhood.)
Also there was Joni. Joni Mitchell was always on rotation, her early albums becoming a staple at the shop. I could hardly stand the singing, all the overly poetic lyrics and her falsetto lingering everywhere. I was eager to throw on my own music, but Colleen was lost in Joni’s words, her long, graceful hands chopping as she sang along.
But, thank goodness, things grow on you over time. There came a day when I was brave enough to try Chinese mushroom soup, and realized I had been missing out on good food for far too long. I started trying everything in that coffeehouse and began to understand that vegetables were not mortal enemies and experimenting with flavors is a good thing. Strawberry muffins were actually amazing.
Joni grew on me, too. There I was, washing dishes one autumn afternoon, when I heard myself singing along. Her lyrics finally had meaning to me; the melody always associated with the smell of onions and garlic sautéing, and fresh bread baking.
Annie sits you down to eat
She always makes you welcome in
Cats and babies 'round her feet
And all are fat and none are thin
None are thin and all are fat
She may bake some brownies today
Saying, you are welcome back
She is another canyon lady
I must admit when I made this stuffed squash with Colleen, I wasn’t so sure about it. It was a vegetable parade of hippie things: quinoa and lentils and kale and squash. But I’ve finally learned not to doubt her. After one bite I changed my tune: The squash was perfectly creamy and basically melted in my mouth. The stuffing only added to the dish; all the flavors worked perfectly together, making an equally healthy and filling meal.
After I had praised the squash for a full two minutes, Colleen asked me to put on some music. There was only one obvious choice. Joni filled the Wolners' home, and we both sang along.
Annie bakes her cakes and her breads
And she gathers flowers for her home
For her home she gathers flowers
And Estrella, dear companion
Colors up the sunshine hours
Pouring music down the canyon-
Coloring the sunshine hours
They are the ladies of the canyon
For the squash:
4 carnival squash or other dumpling squash
Olive oil, for brushing
For the filling:
1 cup French lentils
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cups (about 1/2 pound) stemmed, chopped kale
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 pound feta cheese
Salt and pepper
Photos by Sarah Kieffer