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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Thursday, June 25, 2015


About a week ago, we found a frog on our front porch.  Not a live frog, but a small brown plastic frog, which looked deceptively real.  We have a few prankster friends in the neighborhood, and it's not completely unusual for us to leave things on other people's doorsteps (though usually at holiday times), so we laughed at it, and agreed that we'd ask around, trying to get the culprit to confess.

It's possible that we didn't ask the right people, but no one took responsibility.  We decided to leave the frog there.  You know--guard frog.

Today, a second frog showed up on our front porch, on the opposite side of the steps.  This one it made of some heavier material, stone-like, fatter.  It was as if Frog Number One needed a friend.

Part of me is amused.  I wonder who our secret admirer could be.  I wonder why frogs instead of, say, mice.  Or beanie babies.  Or toy dinosaurs.

Another part of me finds this a little freaky.  'Fess up already, frog whisperer.  Just what are you trying to say?

Have you ever had someone leave odd things on your doorstep?  Did you find out who the culprit was?  Do you know who left frogs on my porch?

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Feeling Smart, and Chopped Thai Kale Salad

I was having lunch with a friend today, a professor (who never taught me in his own class, oddly enough), at a place that I used to love in a former life.  I'd suggested getting together; despite an event in our relationship that almost ended it, I still enjoy his company, and he's the sort of person who seems to know everything, or at least, knows enough to make it look like he knows everything.  We talked about traveling, and writing, and students, and books, and somehow--I'm still not quite sure how this happened--I ended up giving him an idea for the final text of the last large lecture course of his career.

I got to thinking, after lunch was over and I was driving home, about what made me so comfortable in conversation with him, despite the fact that I consider him much more well-read that I--a quality in others that often makes me draw inward.  And it occurred to me that there's a difference between people who are well-read and make you feel like you don't know anything, and people who are well-read and somehow still manage to make you "feel smart," to value even your crazy ideas, to look like they are listening, to leave space--real space, not just polite space--for you in the conversation.

I told him that some day if he ever needs a home for his books, as he moves out of his offices and into retirement, that I'd help him; I would love to own some of the titles on his shelves, things perhaps that I read myself long ago and gave away when I thought that they were no longer a part of my identity.  He loves this idea.  And perhaps that's just the physical manifestation of a different kind of intellectual generosity.

I am surrounded by highly intelligent people where I work, by colleagues who have gone to the most elite schools in the country and by some of the most well-known scholars of their generation.  Some of them are just that: they profess.  And yet some of them, somehow, find ways to open up space for people who are not quite the luminaries of the next generation, who can make us all feel "smart."

Who are the teachers and mentors who, over the years, opened up space in the conversation for you?

Thai Peanut Chicken and Kale Chopped Salad
This is the sort of refreshing salad that you might serve to entertain a friend for a summer afternoon conversation over a whole host of thing; it's sort of like another I posted a while ago, but different enough that it's worth posting here nonetheless.

8 c. finely chopped kale leaves (1 bunch, stems removed)
2 t. olive oil
3 c. shredded kohlrabi
2 c. rotisserie chicken, shredded
2 large carrots, shredded
1/2 c. roasted, salted peanuts, chopped
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
3 medium green onions, sliced
1/2 cup water
1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
3 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. fresh lime juice
2 t. honey
1/4 t. ground ginger (more)
1/8 t. crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
salt to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine the kale and olive oil. Massage the olive oil into the kale with your hands 1 to 2 minutes until kale is softened slightly.

Add cabbage, chicken, carrots, peanuts, cilantro and green onions to the mixing bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine all the dressing ingredients (water through garlic). Whisk constantly over medium-low heat about 3 minutes or until smooth and slightly thickened. Cool dressing 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, drizzle cooled dressing over salad and toss to combine.
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Friday, June 19, 2015

A Moment of Non-Silence

My heart is heavy tonight, as it has been since I heard the news about the shooting in South Carolina. Here we are again.  Talking.

There are a lot of writers who have already put things better than I could ever hope to do.  That this is not about mental illness; that making it so excuses--even condones--societal illness, and on the other hand, does damage to our approach to mental illness.  That it wasn't just a massacre, and that it isn't unspeakable or unthinkable; in fact, we need to speak, because without speaking these names, and this terrible crime, we have no hope of moving forward, and because someone did think long and hard about how that night would unfold.  That maybe it's time we turned the words "thug" and "terrorist" upside down, and used them where it applies.  That we might want to compare the way in which a white man who shot nine people is arrested with the way that a black man who was selling "loosies." (Then there was Jon Stewart, whose comments brought me to tears: "I am confident that by acknowledging it, by staring into that [abyss] and seeing it for what it is ... we STILL won't do jack shit.")

All of these are astute observations about deep and pervasive anti-Black sentiment in the U.S.

But nothing changes from one blog post to the next.

What if we knew that the suspect had been inspired by ISIS training to commit his terrorist act?  Why is that no different than someone who has been inspired by white supremacist movements, or even more subtle cues about white privilege and the value of black lives?

How many more people are going to have to die, just because they're black?

Why don't we wage war on the real terrorism in our own back (or front) yards?

What am I going to do about it now?
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