By Marcia Pilgeram
Twenty-five years ago, in shop class, my son made a book-holder for me. It remains a beloved piece, displaying a handful of favorite cookbooks. Although the books change, the book holder remains constant in my kitchen. I honestly hadn’t thought much about shop class the past couple of decades until I received a short text last week from Miley, Zane’s 13-year-old daughter (and my baking protégé). It read, “I made a charcuterie board in shop class. We can use it when you come.”
There are so many levels of happiness in that simple text. First of all, I’d venture to guess it may be the first charcuterie board ever crafted in the high-school shop class of Savage, Mont. (population 300, give or take a farmer or two), a small agricultural community named for H.M. Savage, supervising engineer for the U.S. Reclamation Service. It’s a beautiful region of rivers and plains in northeastern Montana, and I’m on my way there.
Besides time with the grandchildren, I’ll be meeting Charlotte, a quintessentially pretty Jersey cow. Zane is a rancher and hay farmer by trade and a barterer by passion. A dairy farmer traded her for a load of hay and, according to Zane, Miley just churned out the first batch of butter, worth $2,000. Like most of the critters on his farm, Charlotte will become a beloved member of the family and will hopefully carry her cow weight by becoming a wet nurse for twins and orphans, and such. Meanwhile, we’ll be baking with buttermilk.
It’s going to be an action-packed week but, before I arrive, the first rendezvous with Zane and Miley is at Costco, in Billings, Mont., where we’ll shop and load up their freshly power-washed horse trailer with enough supplies to fill their winter larder.
I miss the ranch days, when the local restaurant supply house would arrive at our place twice a year with six months’ worth of staples. But old habits die hard — which is why I still maintain three freezers — and there’s still nothing I love more than stocking up on bulk food supplies.
I planned this trip to take advantage of the grandchildren’s schedule, which includes a couple days off school. They have myriad activities planned and I can’t wait to watch them participate – volleyball for 15-year-old Jaidyn, “Pink night” football for Zane (who turns 14 during my visit) and, best of all, a fundraiser bake sale on Saturday. I suspect Miley will have the ovens preheating before we unload the supplies.
Besides lots of baking supplies for the fundraiser, we’ll also be stocking up on some fancy foods for the charcuterie board. I’m anxious to show off Miley’s handiwork and super proud that she received a grade of 71/75 (needed a bit more sanding, critiqued her instructor). I’m thrilled too that today, our granddaughters (and grandsons) can choose to pick up a spatula, a saw, a sauté pan or even a saxophone and learn how to use whatever brings passion to their lives.
I want to take credit for Miley’s mad baking skills, but credit mostly goes to another program at her school called Genius Hour. It’s a project in the classroom where students are allowed to explore their passions for a set amount of time, usually ranging from one hour per week to 20% of their total class time. It was here that Miley mastered French macarons and chocolate eclairs and gained the confidence to pursue her passion to one day own a bakery (her dad says he also did some gaining during these baking endeavors).
It’s a 13-hour drive to Zane’s place and I don’t make it there nearly as often as I’d like, but I’m sure glad there’s a willing village, encouraging my son’s family to flourish — especially at their country school, which encompasses K-12. My gaggle currently takes up space in first, eighth, ninth and 10th grades, respectively. I’ll be forever grateful to everyone in the school (and community) who pitches in to help my single-parent son raise this fine brood. Last week, first-grader Riley had lunch with Mrs. Potter, the school superintendent, who sent home a note praising his handwriting and story writing skills. I’m quite sure he’ll be proudly waving it in his hand upon my arrival.
My pride is in my packing prowess and, once again, I’ve outdone myself. My Montana-bound car is packed to the brim, loaded with keepsakes and heirlooms, coveted cheesemaking and baking supplies, and bits and pieces of Idaho.
I’ve filled a cooler with homemade desserts, frozen huckleberries and a lot of local potatoes. Those kids will polish off the potatoes in a meal or two, starting with a batch of crispy garlic and Parmesan roasted russets. I hope everyone agrees with wise Aunt Ryanne, who says these are the best potatoes. Ever.
Crispy garlic and Parmesan roasted russets
These potatoes are my Idaho-family’s favorite. Perfect side with a Sunday roast. Serves six.
Prep Time: 20 mins. Cook Time: 45-55 mins.
• 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 in cubes (soak in warm saltwater while prepping)
• 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 8 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
• Zest of one lemon
• 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pat potatoes dry. Place in a large bowl and add olive oil, toss to coat with the olive oil, season with the salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer.
While potatoes are roasting, wipe prep bowl clean and mix garlic, parsley, zest and cheese. Remove 1/2 cup and set aside.
Roast potatoes in the oven for 45-55 minutes on bottom rack. Halfway through, shake pan to loosen potatoes and move potatoes to top rack, until crisp and golden.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and toss into bowl with the cheese mixture, using tongs or spoon to coat potatoes. Sprinkle remaining cheese mixture over top and season with a little extra salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
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