Elizabeth Lepage (née O’Connor) grew up in Minnetonka, where she credits her mother, Kathleen O’Connor, with having a natural ability to create and maintain beautiful gardens. “She taught me a lot about how to care for different plants and how to set up a garden visually and thoughtfully to ensure it would continue to grow year after year,” Lepage says. “When I was young, she showed my sister and me how to grow our own large herb garden. We called this our jelly bean herb garden due to its shape, and we always had so much fun rubbing the leaves of the different varieties of mint or eating the chives straight from the garden.”
After meeting her husband, Matt (from Manitoba), while both attended Indiana University School of Optometry in Bloomington, Ind., the couple moved in 2014 to Winnipeg to start a life and careers together. Lepage practices primary care optometry in a private practice and works for a corneal surgeon.
While Lepage continues her career, homegrown interest in garden-to-table cooking and a love for photography set the groundwork for her to launch her blog, The Up North Kitchen, in 2020. “I have always loved taking my favorite comfort food recipes and trying to make them healthier,” she says. “… It seemed like a natural creative outlet for me to start to share my recipes.”
The blog features traditional comfort food’s healthier cousins. “I have adapted these recipes to ensure toddlers and parents are both completely satisfied with the flavor,” she says. “As parents, we can show our kids that creating nutritious and flavorful food to share is one way to express our love for each other.”
“After having my son [Benjamin, 3], I knew that I wanted to make sure that he was always exposed to new flavors and foods and to try to show him that eating healthy is delicious and, frankly, just the way we live as a family. Of course, we also eat treats and convenience foods regularly, but we try to show him how cooking healthy meals or baking can be a really fun way to spend time together.” The family also includes daughter, Margot, 10 months.
Lepage has another motivation to promote healthier menus—her work. “We see people with chronic health conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease that not only affect their eyes, but have long lasting systemic problems that could be prevented or helped with a healthy diet,” she says. With family members, who also have chronic health problems, the couple is committed to serving healthier food options.
Making her home in Canada for nearly six years, Lepage is well versed in comparing Canadian and American cooking. “I think they are very similar, although there are many dishes that are distinctly Canadian that I am still getting used to,” she says. “Poutine is a favorite of almost everyone I have met in Winnipeg, as are pierogies and anything traditionally Ukrainian. Winnipeg has a great food and restaurant scene, so I have been able to try a lot of new dishes since moving up here. There are many French foods as there is a larger French-Canadian population where I live.”
Speaking of American cuisine, are there any Minnesota dining spots that Lepage craves? “The Twin Cities always has so many amazing options for foodies, so I feel like the restaurant scene is constantly adapting every time I get a chance to try something new,” she says, pointing to Adele’s Frozen Custard in Excelsior, CōV in Wayzata and D’Amico & Sons in Wayzata on her must-visit menu. “Luckily, I get to travel back to the Minnetonka area to visit my family and friends very frequently. When I am home, I get the chance to have dishes and [baked goods] that I grew up with.”
Lepage visits local grocers, too. “This might sound silly, but I miss finding my ingredients at the grocery store in ounces and pounds,” she says. “Everything is measured with the metric system, and it took me a while to get used to it ... I’m still not used to it, to be honest!”
Herby Egg Bake—Three Ways
Broccoli Cheddar Egg Bake (single serving)
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup broccoli
- 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, chopped or shredded
- 1 Tbsp. chives, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray 18.6 oz. baking dish/ramekin with olive oil. Break eggs into the ramekin, using a small whisk to break up the yokes. Steam the broccoli by placing in the microwave for 30 seconds. Add it to the eggs. Sprinkle the chopped cheddar cheese, chives and parsley into the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 25 minutes. Note: The baking time may vary based on the dish you use. Allow the eggs to set for a few
minutes after baking.
Parmesan Asparagus Egg Bake with Microgreen (single serving)
- 3 eggs
- 2 spears asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 Tbsp. chives, chopped
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray 18.6 oz. baking dish/ramekin with olive oil. Line the base of the dish with microgreens, and break three eggs on top without breaking up the yoke. Add the asparagus, chives, paprika and Parmesan cheese on top of the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 25 minutes. Note: The baking time
may vary based on the dish you use. Allow the eggs to set for a few minutes after baking.
Caprese Egg Bake (single serving)
- 3 eggs
- 2 pieces of sun-dried tomato, thinly sliced
- 3 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 3 small mozzarella balls, chopped
- 2 basil leaves, sliced
- 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray 18.6 oz. baking dish/ramekin with olive oil. Line the bottom of the dish with half of the sun-dried tomatoes. Break eggs on top of the sun-dried tomatoes, but do not break up the yoke. Sprinkle tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan on the eggs. Top with basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 25 minutes. Note: The baking time may vary based on the dish you use. Allow the eggs to set for a few minutes after baking.
Thrice Baked Potatoes
- 1.5 lb. red mini creamer potatoes
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 8 cloves of garlic, pressed
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme
- 1 shallot, sliced thin
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put a layer of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Put the mini potatoes (do not slice) in a large bowl, and coat with 2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil. Place them on the baking sheet in a single layer, and bake for 20 minutes. Take the roasted potatoes out of the oven, and lightly smash each potato on the pan until they are slightly open. Once the potatoes are slightly smashed, use your fingers to spread the pressed garlic over all of the potatoes. Mix the chili powder and smoked paprika in a small bowl, and sprinkle the mix over the smashed potatoes. Put them back in the oven to bake for another seven minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, and increase the heat to 450 F. Move the potatoes from the pan to a large mixing bowl, coat with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and put them back on the pan in a single layer. Lightly smash the potatoes again to expose more of the inside of the potato. In a small bowl, combine salt, garlic powder, cumin and thyme. Sprinkle mixture over the potatoes. Spread shallot over top of the potatoes. Bake for the final time for seven minutes at 450 F.
Zesty Citrus Baked Donuts
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
- 1 Tbsp. orange zest
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled for a minute
- 1 egg
- 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp. orange juice
- 3/8 cup honey
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 400 F. Zest two lemons and two oranges, keeping the zest in separate bowls. Juice the lemons and oranges after zesting, keeping the juices in separate bowls. In a large mixing bowl, combine coconut oil, egg, juices, honey, almond extract and zests. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ground ginger. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Scoop the batter into a large plastic storage or piping bag; cut the tip off the plastic bag. Spray a donut pan with coconut oil, and pipe the batter into each donut well until about 2/3 full. Bake donuts for seven minutes at 400 F. Remove donuts from the oven, and flip onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest, extra for garnish
- 1 Tbsp. orange zest, extra for garnish
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 ½ Tbsp. orange juice
Combine all ingredients in one bowl. Dip the top of each donut (smooth side) into the icing bowl and coat completely with icing. Add extra zest on top. Harden on a cooling rack.