Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Favorite Place, and Zucchini Pesto

I've been reading student applications, in preparation for their arrival on campus.  By the time they reach me, the applications are almost like ancient history, snapshots of a distant past one year ago when applicants shone their shoes, put their best foot forward, combed their hair, turned their faces at just the right angle for the camera.  Still, they bring that history with them, much as they might want to reinvent themselves, so it's useful to know.

The questions on the Common Application haven't changed much over the past two years (though I see they're different this year), and as I read the applications, sometimes I wonder how I'd answer these questions if I had to write a college application now.  I suspect I'd find the process daunting. Too many places to fall short.

Which seems particularly obvious to me when it comes to this question: "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?" What seems, on the surface, to be a perfectly innocuous question about tranquility is much more devious, of course, because contentment isn't necessarily peaceful; the essay demands that you demonstrate readiness for college in your choice of content (not the description of the place, of course, but the part that's about you) and proficiency in writing.  Lots of students use this question to describe their experience in competitive athletics, or in some kind of work "flow" in a lab or as they're reading.  So what does it say about me, I wonder, that I'd chose my CSA farm?

I am content with my family, too, when my daughter wriggles into my lap and tells me she's going to cuddle, or when my son tells me about his day, interrupting his stream of consciousness every fourth word with "mom?  and mom?"  But sometimes it's hard to quiet my mind there.  When I'm home I'm often thinking about other things I need to do, lunches to pack, schedules to manage, dinners to make, grocery shopping to do, laundry to fold.  Books I ought to read.

But the CSA is different; it's the one place where time stops for me.  I may be in a rush when I get there, and in a rush when I leave, but when I'm picking up vegetables, being present is effortless. I'm always, without fail, astonished by the view, the green hills that roll away to the horizon with other farms and silos and houses with acreage.  It's one of the few places where I stand still.  Sometimes, if I'm there at just the right time of day, the air is thick and bright with butterflies above the rows of zinnias and sunflowers.  As I pluck the cherry tomatoes from their vines-which come in every imaginable hue from red to yellow to purple--sweet juice bursts their skins open in the heat.  Why is it meaningful to me?  Because being present is difficult sometimes, and I'm grateful for a place that reminds me to do so even after I've left.  Because the other CSA members who've come to pick up their shares, people I've met and people I've never met, essentially share a garden and a virtual table: we are an instant and real community, which offers its members a sense of belonging with no strings attached.  My farmer greets me by name and with a broad smile.  I know the origins of my dinner, digging my heels into the soil that nourished the plans that produced my beans.  I feel connected, and quite literally, grounded.

I'm fairly certain that's not good enough for a college essay.  I wonder what the admissions committees would make of me, the me that would write that essay now.  I wonder if they'd wonder if I ought not to be applying to an ag school, or to a Buddhist monastery, or to a culinary institute, instead of to a university.

Or maybe they'd think I'm an artist, a dreamer, a lover of people, someone who cares about sustainability and nourishing the body and the spirit and the local community.

I like the second picture better.

Zucchini with Pesto

Combine in a food processor and process to a rough paste:

2 c. loosely packed basil leaves
1⁄2 c. grated Parmesan 
1⁄3 c. cashews
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled

With the machine running, slowly add:
1⁄2 c. olive oil, or as needed

If the pesto seems dry (it should be a thick paste), add a little more olive oil. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Use immediately, or pour a very thin film of olive oil over the top, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

When your'e ready to serve the dish, julienne the zucchini (I have a brand new fancy mandoline that some friends got for me to do this).  Saute briefly until just crisp-tender, and toss with the pesto to warm.  Serve with fresh ripe tomatoes, a crusty bread, and whatever else yells summer.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

(It's Not About the) Costume

On Thursday, I signed N. up for dance class.  She has been begging me to find a class for her for almost two years now, since we had to leave the "mommy and me" dance class we attended briefly when I returned to work.  She has collected hand-me-down tights and leotards and ballet slippers and tutus of all colors and persuasions, and can often be found flouncing around the house in one or the other of them, alternately performing something like "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Flashdance." When one of her friends' mothers wrote to me and offered to take N. to class along with her own daughter this year, I felt like the universe had just laid me a golden egg.

Truth be told, I'm excited about this, too. I have fond memories of my own dance school (when I'm not thinking about the clique of girls who terrorized me for being pudgy or awkward or bookish or not going to school in town), and this one is just like it: old school, no monitors to watch the class while you wait for your child, twice a year parent observations, black short-sleeved leotards and pink tights ONLY, please (of course, not in our hand-me-down pile), and seriousness about the study of the art.  I wish I could go, too; my body aches for that kind of movement sometimes.

My daughter is also excited.  I keep reminding her, because she really is a little fashionista sometimes, that it's not about the tutus, that it's really about the dance, about becoming an athlete, about learning a whole new language.  She seems to understand; I hope she understands.


For part of our honeymoon, my husband and I took a bike trip through Umbria.  The trip consisted of  a series of 30-40 mile rides through some spectacular countryside, with stops at wineries and fabulous restaurants, supported by a van that would bring you snacks and carry luggage (and you, if the need arose).  I remember being worried, upon our arrival in Perugia, that we were about to be upstaged by expert riders. That we weren't prepared for this.  And when I saw the other family get off the train with their own bikes with clip-on pedals, bags of gear, and their own personalized helmets, I nearly cried and gave up before we even got started.  But we pretty quickly realized that it was they who were outclassed; that they'd probably bought half of that stuff the week before their trip, which was why it was all so pristine.  By day two, one of the four were riding in the support van, one of them was biking alone miles behind us, and the two teenagers had lost the route (presumably on purpose, so they could make out with each other uninterrupted).

It was an important lesson, though one I find myself re-learning with embarrassing frequency.  It's not about the costume.


It goes for writing, too, doesn't it?  It doesn't matter if you have sharpened pencils, or if you've mastered the art of post promotion through social media.  It's not even about being published, or having been published.  The writers are the ones who are writing, practicing their craft.  What matters is that you put your fingers to the keyboard, and come as you are.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

#Microblog Monday: Unfamiliar

(With apologies to those of you who get squirmy about feet, because I know there are people like that out there...)
So, this happened this weekend, courtesy of N.:

N. loves nail polish.  Fingers, toes, doesn't much matter.  Last week it was blue with sparkles, but she really wanted pink, because her friend L. had pink.  For $0.99, I figured she could have pink.

I never wear anything polish, never mind hot pink toenail polish, but I couldn't resist her when she asked if she could paint my toenails, too. I doing a double-take when I look down at my feet.  Aaaah! They're pink.  Aaaaaah!  They're still pink.  It's disconcerting.

But also sort of fun.

Have you ever done something that made you look unfamiliar to yourself, temporarily?

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is?
Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cool: Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

Did you have friends, as you were growing up, whose parents were cool?

I did.  And as the daughter of decidedly uncool parents, I made a conscious decision that I was going to try to be one of those cool parents, if I ever got the chance.

There are days when I fail miserably.  (Let's face it; there are lots of days when I'm not cool.)  But there are also days when I knock it out of the park.

It's zucchini season around here, and my kids are not exactly zucchini lovers.  They tolerate it, but like Bartleby, they'd prefer not to.

Until the zucchini cake.

I had a giant zucchini that needed a home, and I decided to make the Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake from the Kinfolk Table that I've been eyeing since my husband bought me the book for Christmas.  I brought said cake to a poolside gathering, where it was almost completely devoured.  My son ate four pieces of it, and my daughter wolfed down her one, asking only halfway through what the green bits were.  ("Apples," I lied.  I told her the truth later, but in the moment, she didn't need to know.)

I offered the single leftover piece to my son for his camp lunchbox the next day, and he was thrilled.  When he came home, he told me how all of his friends were jealously ogling his chocolate cake for lunch; he explained, "well, it's zucchini, so it's sort of healthy.  And it's homemade, so it doesn't have lots of junk in it.  But it's still cake."

Oh yeah, I thought.  I've arrived.  I?  Am COOL.

Tonight, as I was making zucchini curry with N., she mentioned that she really doesn't like zucchini.  I reminded her of the cake.  "Well," she said definitively, suspiciously eyeing the wok where the coconut milk and curry paste were simmering, "I have a good idea!  We should be making cake!"


Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake 

2 1/2 c. flour (about half and half white and whole wheat pastry)
1/4 c. natural cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground clove 
1/2 c. butter or margarine, at room temperature
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 3/4 c. sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla
2 c. zucchini / courgette finely diced (or grated)
1/2 c. chocolate chips

 Preheat the oven to 325℉. Grease the inside of a 9 x 13" baking pan and line the base with baking paper. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter or margarine, oil and sugar in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on a medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until just combined.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half of the flour mixture, and mix for 15 seconds. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 5 more seconds. Stir in the zucchini and half the chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the remaining chocolate chips.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool completely in the pan, about 1 hour.  Devour.
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Friday, July 10, 2015

Couldn't Be Simpler (and Banana Pancakes): a Guest Post from Mr. Half Baked

S. is a man of few words.  So when he says he has some to share, I have to take him seriously.  Here's his guest post.


The lesser-known fourth law of thermodynamics states that things are always complicated, and only get more complicated as time goes on. Never simpler.  This applies to all aspects of life, such as taxes, politics, cell phones, daily kid schedules, and food rules.  Tonight wasn't looking any different.  As our weekly food shopping cycle comes a close and the refrigerator is bare, we sometimes revert to what we call "Breakfast for Dinner".  Tonight was one of those nights.   For I, this is exciting as it means scrambled eggs, one of his favorites.  For N, it's complicated and only seems to be getting more so.  As a parent, I'd like to get some eggs into her for protein.  The problem is that she doesn't like any eggs she can see and taste.  French toast used to work, but not any more, not even with the promise of maple syrup.  She wants pancakes, and she's adamant about it.  Pancakes from scratch are a lot of work, and there's really not much protein in them.  And after all the effort, she probably won't even really eat them.   Dinner is suddenly getting complicated.

Desperate for a compromise solution, I turn to the internet and search for "recipe pancakes eggs".  Lo and behold, one of the top hits is this.  I can't believe my eyes.  Just two ingredients, eggs and bananas.  That's it.  No flour, no baking powder, no butter, no sugar, no nothing.  Two ingredients, and I have both of them.  And to top it all off, it looks like a web page that J might even read sometimes.  It has that strong female bloggy vibe.

In just minutes I have my first batch ready.  N eats her first one in record time.  I sees them and has to have a couple of them too.  They both claim that these are their new favorite food.  "Even better than marshmallows?"  "Yes, better than marshmallows."

I don't know if I believe they're actually better than marshmallows, but I'm grateful for a simple dinner.  Simple to make, simple to eat.  A rare exception to the fourth law.
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Monday, July 6, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: The Little Free Library

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Our Friends of the Free Public Library (of which I'm a board member) built and maintains three Little Free Libraries in town, where we occasionally drop off books that people can take home, circulate ones that don't move, and clear out junk that gets left by others.

I go by at least once a week, and sometimes I wonder how people decide what to put in there, and what it says about what we think about what's good literature, or what it says about what and how we share with people we don't know.

If you had a Little Free Library in town, would you drop off the books you love, or the books you need to get rid of?  Do you give away things that mean a lot to you, or things you don't care about at all?  What are you willing to share?

What would you hope to pick up?

Do you have a Little Free Library in your town?

Also, on a somewhat related note, I need almost all of the books that are coming out here, and a short sabbatical in which I re-learn how to read, because I think I may have forgotten.  What's the best book you've read lately?  (And would it find its way into a Little Free Library, or are you hoarding it?)
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Help, and Fresh Raspberry Muffins

I have been picking raspberries like nobody's business.  With N's help, actually.  She is an excellent picker; she doesn't want to stop until EVERY. LAST. BERRY. is in the basket, which is more or less my approach.  We make a good team, even if the berries do seem to ripen as we're standing there.

In general, I'm enjoying watching N. grow up this year.  She's becoming a thoughtful, sensitive, inquisitive young person.  This morning, as I took her for a jog, she decided to play 20 Questions What's Your Favorite (Fill in the blank), and asked me everything from "What's your favorite Italian food" to "What's your favorite princess crown color" to "What's your favorite part of your life?"  That last one took me by surprise.

I don't have answers to all of her questions.  I love that she takes me by surprise.  Quite iften she asks me thinks that make me think.

N. is also an excellent help in the kitchen.  We needed to make something quickly to use up the most recent harvest before we left for vacation, so I threw these together.  And much to my surprise, when I came down the next morning, she was eating one, having helped herself to breakfast.

She tells me that some day, she is going to do ALL of the chores in the house.  I wouldn't put it past her.

One thing's for sure though: she will know how to cook.

Fresh Raspberry Muffins

1/3 c.butter melted
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 T. lemon peel
½ c. of milk
1 t. vanilla
1 c. flour
3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 t. baking powder
2 c. fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt the butter, cool slightly, and whisk together with sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix well.

Gently fold in the raspberries, and fill prepared muffin cups two-thirds full.  Bake for 20 to 25 minute or until just golden.

Help yourself.
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