Retreating to the Northwoods + RECIPE: Cabbage, Leek & Pepper Runza

After seven nights away and a full two weeks off of work, I can say with absolute certainty that everyone everywhere deserves a retreat from their daily lives every once in a while.

Not just a vacation or an adventure, but a real retreat that encourages quiet and calm and reflection and possibly even productivity. A retreat that is challenging and beautiful and relaxing and fun. A retreat that encourages work while also celebrating it. A retreat that propels you forward.

Our little retreat did all of that, and we’re already dreaming of ways to expand and improve it in the future. Mostly by making it longer. But also by learning how to let great conversations happen on their own rather than force them into being. This past week I learned I’m really terrible at letting things happen organically (ironic, isn’t it?) and really great at being pushy. More on that later to be sure.

The highlights of our little getaway included:

  • A home perched on the rocky, rugged Lake Superior shores in a quiet little neighborhood.
  • A roaring fireplace every night.
  • A big, bold starry sky after four nights of gray.
  • Daily doses of unexpected sunshine.
  • A hurt neck that led to a sore back (not mine) that limited our activity and forced me to slow down on a trip where I said slowing down was the whole point (and then resisted constantly).
  • A well-stocked fridge of favorite things.
  • A bag of horseradish & cheddar chips consumed in less than 24 hours.
  • A whole bottle of champagne drank in that same time frame.
  • A Mrs. Maisel marathon.
  • A visit to Little Nikki’s in Cornucopia where I embarrassed and then subsequently embraced my ridiculousness by ordering a 32-ounce Bloody Mary in a room full of locals all sipping coffee. I am a spectacle, and I do best when I remember that instead of hiding it.
  • A field plan that came together easily and beautifully.
  • A budget and long-term infrastructure plan that also come together quite simply and led to an easy decision that we always assumed would be hard.
  • A day of big dreaming.
  • Another day centered around AirBnb-specific dreams only.
  • So many frozen shapes and sounds.
  • Giant breakfasts day after day.
  • A tour of Bayfield by a fabulous local who’s driving beautiful change.
  • Two perfect meals at The Fat Radish.
  • A lovely stroll through a quiet neighborhood, a meandering hike to a formerly lost waterfall, a trek to frozen sea caves on a violently windy day, and another walk two days later to similar vistas on a different Great Lake.
  • A totally ridiculous and completely perfect stay at the Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay.
  • A day of training at a new part-time gig.
  • Sips of delicious beer at a fabulous new space.
  • An elegant silly fireside dinner in flannel at Whistling Swan.
  • The right words at the right time. The wrong words at the right time.
  • A resounding, repeating ode of simplicity.

We focused a lot less on discrete goals and resolutions for 2019 than I thought we would. The only real mention of resolutions were totally joy-inducing. Things like: lay out under the stars, have weekly bonfires, take Sundays off, eat more salads in the off season, pickle our own peppers again, and go to way more concerts. All an obvious response to the fact that we’re tremendously good at working hard.

And since we had already spent the first two months of our off-season immersed in thoughtful conversations about our business (leading us to the decision to focus more on CSA and less on wholesale while transitioning away from off-farm jobs with the goal of ultimately creating a healthier, more-balanced, more efficient enterprise), it made sense to not focus here on the retreat either.

 

So instead of spending our retreat setting goals and saying what we plan to do in absolute terms, we let these earlier decisions become the undercurrent of every conversation we had. The talks were bigger and grander than I thought they would be. We talked of our dreams 5, 10 or 20 years from now. We had a lot of ideas and definitely didn’t have all the answers. We talked about routines we wanted to cultivate in our daily lives. It was refreshing. It was motivating. It was beautiful. It was essential.

We returned home late Thursday evening and set right to work bringing our home into alignment with our newfound inner clarity. I very much consider these days surrounding our physical retreat to be a continuation of our days away; our chance to bring our words to action in our daily life.

The cooking is sweeter because we are back home in a place where we have access to any ingredient we want to make any recipe we find, but it’s also the perfect reminder to focus. To shed the unnecessary stress of too many options and create from what’s around me. To nourish with what I have instead of seeking out the frivolous.

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And there is nothing less frivolous or better suited to a farmer’s kitchen in winter after a week spent in the Northwoods than the Midwestern classic of runza: a simple dough wrapped around storage cabbage and leeks from our cellar and ground pork and peppers from our freezer.

Hope you enjoy and find your own place of inner tranquility in this (finally) snowy January,
Leek

P.S. I am enthusiastic supporter of the locally grown and milled organic all-purpose flour from Meadowlark Organics for this dough– and pretty much all doughs I make. Check them out and enter LEEKLARK20 at checkout for 20% off your order!

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CABBAGE, LEEK & POBLANO RUNZA
What the heck is runza you ask? Well, officially, it is the state dish of Nebraska. But closer to home, it is a dish I grew up with when my mom had extra cabbage in her garden. It’s essentially a German-style calzone packed full of ground meat (traditionally beef, but here I used pork because it’s what I had on hand), cabbage, and onions. I know making your own dough can seem intimidating but give it a try. It’s easier than you think.

Makes 8 runzas
Takes 2 hours

Dough:
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2-1/4 teaspoons active yeast
Pinch sugar + 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
4 eggs; 3 for dough, 1 for egg wash
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided + more for dusting counter
12 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 leeks, cut in half and sliced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage

  1. In a large bowl, combine water (it should be warm but not hot), yeast and sugar. Whisk gently to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes until it bubbles, rises and smells yeasty. Add 3 eggs and whisk to combine. Add half the flour and beat with a spoon until totally incorporated. Add butter, remaining flour, sugar and salt. Stir until just combined and then let rest for 15 minutes.
  2. Once rested, dust counter with flour and knead dough for 5 minutes until tight and smooth. Transfer the dough to a clean, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm space for an hour (until doubled in size).
  3. When the dough is about 20 minutes from finished, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and start on the filling. In a large heavy skillet (or Dutch oven), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ground pork, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Break up meat with two forks, cooking for 5 minutes until browned. Add leeks and pepper. Cook 5 minutes more. Add butter and remaining salt to skillet. Get it a stir so the butter coats all the meat and veggies. Add cabbage along with dried herbs and let wilt gently over medium low heat for 15 minutes.
  4. At this point, your dough should be risen. Grease two baking sheets. Divide into 8 pieces.
  5. Re-dust counter with flour and roll out dough into a rough 8×4-inch rectangle. Scoop 3/4 cup of cabbage mixture into the center. Fold in the two long sides of dough so they touch then pull the other edges into the center until you form a sealed dough pocket with the meat in the middle. Place, seal side down, on the greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and cabbage mixture.
  6. Beat last egg in a small bowl until smooth and brush runzas with egg mixture.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate pans and bake 15 minutes longer until golden brown. They may crack, but you shouldn’t worry too much if they do. It just means you over-kneaded the dough and they will still taste amazing.
  8. Serve with ketchup or some variation of a spicy special sauce.

**Pro tip: My mom often cuts a slit in the side of the fully baked runzas when she is reheating them and adds a slice or two of cheese.

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