Saturday, November 30, 2013

Farewell, Johnny

Today was the last day of business for Johnny's, a small coffeehouse in Big Timber.

Businesses come and go, but in a small town (Big Timber's population is just over 1,700) losing any business can create a large gap, not necessarily in terms of real estate but rather in the heart.

People who pass through, if they notice at all, will think it is just another empty building. Locals will think about the good times they had there behind those blank windows where the OPEN sign will never be turned on again.

The hot cups of coffee and tea, breakfast burritos and tacos for lunch, the backgammon games, the chance to meet with friends and neighbors or chat with Johnny . . . these are now memories.

When Johnny's opened in April 2013, Scott Romsos (aka Johnny) had big dreams: create a community around fresh food, backgammon championships, maybe some evening music.

But dreams take hard work -- and enough money -- and although Johnny put in his fair share, it turned out to be too much for one person.

Even with the hardest work, a broad customer base is also necessary. "There just aren't enough people [in Big Timber]. You need a bigger group of people to come in and drink the coffee," Johnny said.

But in fact, food was the biggest draw for customers.

"You can't do it just with coffee. I really wanted to do food that was fresh and healthy and homemade, handmade, instead of just taking something and putting it in a microwave. The flip side of that, though, is with me being the only person in here, it was a lot of work. Long, long hours in here."

Yet Johnny wasn't quite alone. There was that community he was striving to build.

"I'm one hundred percent an elementary school teacher. I've never gone into a restaurant, never cooked, never done coffee before, never owned a business before. So this was all basically starting at square number zero. But I would say, one of the beautiful things about being in Big Timber is there were people who would come in, and as I built up a rapport with people, I would start asking questions about business, especially the food side of things. And people were just really, really open and helpful."

For example, "when you're making a burrito, you need to know what your cost is, for everything. Onions, potatoes, meat, eggs. Beforehand, just cooking for myself, I would just kind of grab. The way I like to cook is go into the refrigerator and see what's there and throw something together. So that was the biggest piece of advice I got."

Johnny's fresh tacos were a big hit.

Johnny is both philosophical and practical about the closure.

"I just really like talking to people. That was hands down the best part of this job. I feel like I really poured myself into this place. So [closing] wasn't something I really wanted to do. But I just couldn't go on anymore, with barely breaking even every month."

Despite the closure of his business, Johnny has no regrets about having given it a try. He's looking forward to the future: Maybe go back to teaching elementary school, perhaps overseas. Do a little fishing.

We'll miss you, Johnny, but we wish you the best of luck. May the fish be always near and hungry.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Pizza is one of those foods everyone seems to like. Your favorite topping might not be my favorite -- pineapple, Canadian bacon, and mushrooms -- but I think we can agree that pizza is a treat to eat.

I have no complaint about regular pizza. I don't even care if it's deep dish or thin crust. I'll eat my fair share no matter what. But sometimes it's good to try something a bit different.

The other day someone gave me a whopper of a zucchini -- 6 pounds! Of course I scrambled to find things to make with it.

I love zucchini shredded and mixed with corn and red pepper, then mixed with eggs and a bit of flour and fried in tasty little cakes.

I have a terrific recipe for zucchini bread that people rave about.

And for the past year I haven't been able to get my fill of Zucchini Tots.

But I had a lot of zucchini to use up and so went searching for more ways to serve it. One delightful dish I found was pizza with a zucchini crust.

Surprisingly, it tastes exactly like pizza. It is very light. If you find regular pizza with its flour-laden crust difficult to digest, try this version.

I found this recipe on a Zone diet forum, so it is Zone friendly. Each serving is about 3 blocks if you include fruit for dessert.

If you're not on a diet of any kind, you'll still like it. Maybe even love it. Trust me.

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Makes 1 12-inch pizza
Serves 4

3 cups shredded zucchini
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup grated cheese
1tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
Sprinkle of dried oregano

1 cup spaghetti sauce
1 or 2 chicken Italian sausages, crumbled and browned
-or- 2 hot dogs, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle shredded zucchini with salt and let stand for 15 minutes. Squeeze out water.

Mix crust ingredients and spread on a parchment-lined pizza pan or cookie sheet. (Whatever you do, use parchment paper under the crust! Merely oiling the surface of the pan isn't enough; the crust will stick.) Bake about 20 minutes, or until top is dry to the touch and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and add toppings in order listed.

Return to oven (I raised the temperature to 400 for quicker results -- watch the pizza carefully!) and bake until cheese is melted.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A treat: MSU Bozeman Food Day

These eyeball treats grossed me out big time. But they were all part of the fun at the third annual Montana State University Food Day.

The public is welcome to stroll through the exhibits, but the event aims to provide a venue for nutrition students to share their knowledge and to allow students in general to explore healthy food options -- and get some university credits for attending.

The tables were set up in a kind of circuit course, beginning with general "what do you know?" questions, piloting participants through a variety of activities and good things to eat, and ending with an opportunity to write on a paper plate why they have decided to eat real food.

There were LOTS of healthy treats at every table!

Many students took advantage of its being Halloween and dressed as their favorite vegetables.

Miss Pineapple, above, introduced herself to me with "Hi, I'm a local food." A lively discussion followed as to whether pineapples could grow in Montana, and the conclusion was that it would take a hot greenhouse and be very expensive. But, oh well. The goal is to eat local and to eat fruit, so Montana residents must compromise here and there for good health.

The fellow sitting next to her is Patrick, who explained to me about the campus group Sustainable Foods and Bioenergy Systems Collaborative, formerly known as Friends of Local Foods, which is the name still on the website. (They could use some help updating the site; if you can, they'd like to hear from you!) They decided to update the name to reflect the real purpose of the group, which I guess makes sense to people who are sticklers about details.

Whatever they call themselves, they are a serious group dedicated to "making a difference in the Bozeman food system." Everyone is welcome to join them when they meet on Wednesdays at 6 pm in the SUB lounge on campus.

Speaking of the Bozeman food system, I was delighted to meet Aubree, who updated me on Gallatin Valley Farm to School and the National Farm to School Network. On October 24, National Food Day, 4200 students in Bozeman crunched into delicious Montana-grown apples at exactly 2 pm. Many other districts around the state did the same thing, which explains the loud munching I heard that day. (Just kidding.)

Gallatin Valley Farm to School raises funds by selling lovely red-and-beige tea towels for $15. You can't buy them online right now, but feel free to contact the group, and someone will help you get one.

Even closer to home was a table set up by the Montana State University Food Services (UFS) team. They have created the Montana Made Program to focus on using made-in-Montana products wherever possible. In 2012, they "spent $1.1 million on products that were grown and/or processed, manufactured, and distributed throughout the state of Montana," according to their website. Because UFS feeds 3600 students on campus each day (1200 each mealtime), the impact of their purchases is significant.

But as program coordinator Stephanie Hanson explained to me, the definition of "Montana made" is necessarily broad. Local farmers just can't supply everything, and companies like Pepsi, which hires Montana workers in its local plant, are included. UFS does its best to ensure its buying dollars find their way into the local economy.

I must say the sample granola bars made by the Fat Cat Bakery that caters UFS baked goods were outstanding. Lucky students! Last night the bars had been studded with crickets as a Halloween treat (and supplying extra protein, as Stephanie pointed out). The ones today had only oats, honey, and dried fruit. Whew.

What Montana food event would be complete without Tumblewood Teas? Riza and Laurie poured samples, giving everyone a sophisticated taste of the West. With snow flying outside, tea was the perfect pick-me-up.

On that cozy note, I leave you with the recipe for a gruesome albeit healthy treat (pictured at top of blog).

Edible Eyeballs

  1. Slice carrots into 1-inch chunks.
  2. Top each carrot chunk with a blob of cream cheese and one half of a pitted black olive.
Nutrition values:
  • Carrots: Vitamin A
  • Low-fat cream cheese: Calcium
  • Black olives: Iron, Vitamin E, and Copper

Friday, October 25, 2013

A little dippity do in Bozeman

I've written about Mari's Black Bean Salsa Dip before.

But you know, you really can't get enough of that "dippity do," as she calls it, so here is another quick review.

Before I left for a trip to Bozeman today, I noticed on Mari's Montana Kitchen Facebook page that she was going to be giving out samples at Heeb's in the afternoon. Oh, boy!

I arrived to find Mari smiling (as usual) and graciously supplying passing store customers with a warm cup of her black bean dip.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the dip is incredibly versatile. Mari explained today that you can warm it up and top with grated cheese; add meat to it and spread on tortillas; or eat it as is.

"My friend tells me she takes it out to the parking lot here and eats it before she leaves," Mari told me as I dipped a corn chip into my own sample. (Yum!) "I hope that isn't illegal," she added, concerned about the welfare of her customers.

I didn't think it was. But there could be trouble if everyone bought a tub of dip and took it outside to eat. The police might want to, er, confiscate the evidence and make sure it is as delicious as everyone says.

I suggest buying some and finding out how -- and where -- you like to eat it.

You can find Mari's Black Bean Salsa Dip at Heeb's and the Bozeman Co-op.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chocolate in Seattle

Seattle is brimming over with chocolate. A dog-eared copy of the February 2013 chocolate issue of Seattle Magazine made my friend Leslie's eyes glisten and prompted her sister, Marilyn, to drive us on our own tour.

We started at Theo Chocolate in the Fremont neighborhood, where you get to see how chocolate is made from pod to bar. Theo's is only 1 of 20 chocolate makers in the United States, so this is an exciting opportunity.

The tour starts with a chocolate tasting, where I learned that orange essential oil greatly softens the bitter taste of 70% chocolate. But I still prefer milk chocolate.

Our enthusiastic tour guide reminded us that recent studies have shown the health benefits of dark chocolate but that all chocolate still plays an important role in our diet: "Dark chocolate is healthy for your body," she said. "Milk chocolate is healthy for your soul."

After a sit-down lecture in the tasting room, and still wearing dorky hairnets (guys with beards have to wear even dorkier beard nets), we traveled through the factory to follow the process of crushing cocoa pods and producing streams of liquid chocolate.

I was enchanted by the idea of a chocolate pipeline (see first photo above).

The tour naturally leads you into the shop, which is filled with everything a chocolate lover could want. You can sample chocolate bars, buy truffles, or simply stand and breathe in deeply.

Hot Cakes

A former employee of Theo's branched out on her own to create a delightful cafe in Ballard that specializes in molten chocolate cakes, called Hot Cakes.

I stood mesmerized by the seemingly endless choices available on the menus boards.

Outside a sign announced "smoked drinking chocolate," but after trying a sample of the smoked chocolate chips, I wasn't impressed. To me, smoke flavor belongs on food coming off a BBQ grill.

I finally gave in to butterbeer. It's not chocolate, but being a huge Harry Potter fan, I've been wanting to taste this beverage. I was not disappointed!

Hot Cakes butterbeer is made with butterscotch, apple juice, and ginger. For fizz, kids get ginger ale added, but I opted for the adult version with sparkling wine.

I was blown away at how authentic I thought this was. I can easily imagine Fred and George sneaking it back to the dorms. I wish I could apparate so I could enjoy this whenever I wanted.

This time of year, you can buy a bottle of the mix (add your own sparkle) in limited quantities. If you live close enough so you wouldn't have to apparate to get here, I highly recommend rushing to Ballard and stocking up.

George Paul

Tucked into a side street near Greenlake is George Paul Chocolates. It's kind of hard to find parking, even in the middle of the week, but I suggest persevering because you'll want to visit this shop.

George Paul was there today, describing his chocolates and how he makes them and explaining that he really likes doing what he does.

On the counter is a cocoa pod, which is the size of a football. As we learned at Theo's, it takes 2 to 4 of these to make 1 bar of chocolate.

You'll also want to look at George Paul's fabulous tablet selection. They are embedded with all sorts of interesting items, including Hawaiian sea salt and pineapple.

I was tempted by the wide selection of imaginative hot chocolate flavors, but I opted for a salted caramel ice cream cone to enjoy on the way home.

It's hard to choose, but you can't go wrong here!

So that was my day with chocolate. I urge you to make up your own tour. Even if your stop at only one place, you won't regret your indulgence.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lavender and a French bakery

The lavender farm

I'm crazy about lavender, but I don't get to see much of it in eastern Montana. So one of my first stops when I arrived for my visit in the Seattle area was the Woodinville Lavender farm.

I've been following them on Facebook and reading about the lavender ice cream bars, the calls for volunteers to help cut lavender, and various activities that make me smell lavender all the way over in Montana. It's a sweet smell, but one better savored near an actual lavender plant.

Unfortunately for me, September is past the lavender season, but I enjoyed walking in the rain among the trimmed plants. They are pretty even after they lose their blossoms.

And of course, this being Western Washington, there were a few plants that did still bloom.

Inside the shop is where you find the full fragrance of lavender. You can also buy dried buds, essential oil, cookbooks and how-to books on growing lavender, and of course the longed-for lavender ice cream bars.

If you're in the area, be sure to stop in!

The French bakery

Down the road is The Vineyard, a fully stocked French bakery, although you might have to slow down to see it. It's nestled among tractors, which I didn't find odd at all since I see big machinery everywhere in Montana.

Marilyn, my hostess, says her husband cannot see the bakery. He has a kind of male blindness that only allows him to focus on the tractors. So just a warning: do not send a man to pick up the brioche for your fancy French dinner. He might come home with farm equipment instead.

And anyway, why wouldn't you go yourself? The brioche is fantastic, making outstanding toast and French toast. I found tasty Opera Cake, which you just don't see all that often. (Note that I have included a link to a recipe. But having made this myself, I can only warn that it is far easier to buy the cake and with much better-looking results.) Coconut cream tarts, cookies, eclairs . . . all the usual goodies in delightful display and good taste.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Delightful doughnuts at Bozeman rest area

In my opinion, the Bozeman rest area is an oddity, located on the edge of the fourth largest city in Montana (pop. 37,000) rather than on a lonely stretch of nowhere. But it's a welcome oddity if you need a place to rest and don't want to enter the city, tempting fate about getting lost.

I stopped there today, on my way to Seattle, out of sheer curiosity.

It's a pleasant place, accessed at I-90 exit 305 (N. 19th Ave.), where you can also head for Costco, Target, or Petsmart, my usual shopping destinations.

Inside the nice, clean building you can find toilets and a place to sit safe from the elements. (Although today was sunny, there are usually elements in Montana.)

You can also find doughnuts. Lots of doughnuts!

Volunteers from the Bozeman Senior Social Center pick up baked goods donated by the local Albertson's and then greet weary travelers with energy-providing sugar-laden treats and coffee.

"We get compliments all the time from people telling us this is the best food they get at a rest stop," one senior gal told me.

She also said donations fund the center's Meals on Wheels program.

Although the rest area is open year round, the doughnuts are available only on Friday and Saturday, beginning the first of May and ending at the end of September.

I didn't have any money with me, so I asked if I could take a doughnut without making a donation. Since "donations" are so often obligatory, I thought I should ask.

The woman stared at me. I took that as a yes and also took a doughnut. As I munched it on the way back to my car, guilt wracked my conscience. The woman's blue eyes haunted me. How could I take a free doughnut when a few pennies would help feed hungry people?

I dug some change out of the cup holder and returned to drop a couple of quarters into the donation jar. That's when I got the idea to do this blog and tell everyone about the doughnuts . . . a little something more for my money, so to speak.

No, you don't have to make a donation to get a doughnut. But if you can get past that little old lady with the bright blue eyes, more power to you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gallatin Valley farmers market

It's nearing the end of the season, but there are still lots of wonderful things to find at the Gallatin Valley farmers market in Bozeman.

My first stop today was at the Cookie Boys table, where Jayce (10 years old) and Keith (8 years old) were selling their outstanding chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. I can never decide between the two flavors, so I always buy one of each. Take my advice and do the same.

Nearby in the pavilion were loaves of crusty artisan bread from On the Rise. I tasted my first loaf at their bakery on Main Street. I was told today that they have moved into a production-only bakery and are selling loaves through various outlets around the area. I'll miss stopping in for warm pizza slices, but they'll certainly have more customers now, so I wish them well.

I enjoyed colorful flowers . . .

. . . and noticed that real cowboys like -- and make -- soap.

Outside in the sunshine I was tempted by pie . . .

. . . and waffles . . .

. . . and interested to learn that you can plant seeds in a light soil to produce miniature herbs and other plants that can be trimmed as needed, or plucked, rinsed, and added to salads and stir-fries. Tracey of Mountain Vista Farm near Bozeman has put together kits to make the process easy, or you can buy her seed mixes or ready-to-eat herbs.

There was music in the air as I strolled among the vendors outside selling honey, jewelry, clothing, crafts, and so much more.

My favorite vendor turned out to be Ross of Natural Yellowstone Photography, who takes exquisite photos of bears, wolves, and other wildlife, accompanied by his faithful four-legged companion, Jack, who due to regulations, unfortunately cannot be with Ross at the market.

When I explained to Ross that I was taking photos for my Yummy Montana blog, he exclaimed with a grin: "I know Yummy! I use it to find markets. I'm glad to meet you."

Well, I was glad to meet Ross, too, and I wish him the best. His photographs are really outstanding, so look for him when you visit area markets. (Check the market list at

I was pleased to see a bountiful selection of produce. Not least of which were the garden-raised beets being sold by Marianne.

After wondering out loud if I'd ever find a good pickled beet recipe, Marianne shared her own recipe. I bought some lovely golden beets from her, and as soon as I got home I tried it out. Nice!

Pickled Beets

Cook beets and peel off skin.

I steamed the beets for about 20 minutes, but you could roast them. In either case, simply wash beets, and make sure the tops are trimmed to about an inch, leaving short roots intact. When done (a sharp knife will slide in easily), rinse in cold water and remove skin, which will be easy to do with your fingers.

Cut beets into slices or chunks.

Bring to a boil enough water to cover the beets in a jar. For each cup of water, add 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. "It should taste very strong," Marianne told me, because the brine will mellow as it ages. For extra flavor, add bits of chopped shallot or onion.

These will keep for "a long time" in the refrigerator.

You see, all you have to do is ask a farmer how to use the things he or she is selling. They're the experts.

Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Haynes Pavilion, at Tamarack and Black
Saturday, 9 am - noon
June 22 - September 14