Monday, August 30, 2010

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: Purple Haze Brownies

(N.b., before you get all upset (or excited, depending on what sort of cook you are): they're not that kind of brownie.)

It was the last weekend of summer here ... that is, the last weekend before my students arrive back at work, before Ian transitions to day care for a week and then back to his regular classroom.  I'm sorry to see summer go this year.  Usually I look forward to the first day of school, but in some ways, the start of this year feels too similar, too much like what's gone before it, and I will miss the extra days here and there that I've been able to spend at home.  I also feel like the future is a little hazy this year, and I'm starting the school year with a strange mixture of resignation, apprehension, and anticipation for what's to come.  Nonetheless, we milked the weekend for all it was worth, visiting our CSA farm with bikes this time so that we could take the Lawrence Hopewell Trail through the Mercer Educational Gardens and to two geocaches, playing in the water at a neighbor's birthday party, visiting the llamas and tractors at our county 4H fair and stuffing ourselves full of food you're never supposed to eat (like pulled pork and milkshakes) after we rode the ferris wheel and roller coaster, and hosting my high school English teachers for lunch.  Trying to kiss the sky, I guess, one last time.

We got yet another installment of beets this past week from the CSA.  I decided that I was sick of roasting and eating them (much as beets and goat cheese and spinach make a lovely salad), and that it wasn't fair of me to expect our guests to eat them, either, and that I was going to turn them into dessert.  I'd made Elana's Purple Velvet Torte last year with some success (and may post about that later this week since there are yet more beets in my refrigerator from this week's share), but wanted something a little lighter.  I found this recipe on La Tartine Gourmand, and, having almost exactly 7 oz. beets, knew it was destiny.

You have to sort of channel carrot cake (but fudgy, not cakey) when you eat these--don't expect brownies in the traditional sense of the word.  And if you're looking to hide vegetables, this probably isn't the way to do it; the beets are pretty obvious.  Were I to try these again, I'd probably cook the beets and puree them to get a smoother consistency, taking care that the additional liquid doesn't spoil the fudginess of the brownie.

I hope that you'll give these a shot if you have some extra beets in your refrigerator (or if you want your brownies to pack a little bit of an additional nutritional punch).  Savor every moment; they slip away too fast.
Purple Haze Brownies

3.5 oz (90 g) dark chocolate (I used a 70% cocoa dark chocolate)
3.5 oz (100 g) flour
3.5 oz (100 g) almond flour (I used 150 and 50g. respectively, white and almond flour, because that's what I had; it was fine)
3 oz (90 g) sugar
3 oz (90 g) butter (soft)
4 eggs
7 oz (200 g) shredded raw red beets
1 t. vanilla extract
Confectioner sugar and cocoa for decoration

Start by peeling and shredding the beets. Set aside, and preheat the oven to 350.

Melt 3 oz. of the chocolate in a double boiler (or a microwave, at half power, for a minute at a time, stirring after each minute to see if you're melted enough yet ... you'll know when the chocolate is smooth and shiny).  You'll be chopping the extra .5 oz. to toss into the batter later; set aside.

Cream together (using a food processor, I use my Kitchen Aid Stand) the butter with sugar, and add eggs.  Mix until lighter, then add the chocolate, flour, almond powder, the beets and the vanilla extract, and mix well.  Add chopped chocolate and mix well again.

Grease an 8x8" cake pan, and placed greased parchment paper at the bottom.  Pour the preparation in it and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.   Your brownies are cooked once the blade of a knife comes out dry after you insert the blade in the cake.  I dusted mine with powdered sugar; that's not necessary, but it does make them just a tad sweeter.
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Friday, August 27, 2010

Like a Prayer: Tomato, White Bean, and Bacon Soup

I've been thinking lately about prayer.  Reading ALI blogs, you kind of have to ... there is so much hope, and so much loss, and so many people who support each other on these difficult journeys, that "prayer" becomes part of the common parlance.  Before I go too far here, I should probably make a confession: I attend a UU fellowship, and I'm not sure I'd use the word "pray" to describe my spiritual practice; if anything, it's more like meditation, or communion.  But I do find myself telling people, in times of crisis (for them), that I will pray for them ... because "keep you in my thoughts" doesn't seem like it's enough, nor does it really describe how I feel.  "Hold you to the light," a phrase that some of the others in my fellowship use, also doesn't really fit me.  So I've been wondering: it disingenuous to use "prayer," even when it's not the word I would use for myself?

I just finished reading Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, and while the book is also about a lot of other things, it's given me some food for thought, about loss, about finding hope, about blogging and telling our stories and making meaning, even when we may not be speaking the same "language" as those who are bearing witness, and about the importance of bearing witness, even when we do not understand.  The plot, in a nutshell, goes like this: skeptical well-educated Jesuit priest/linguist embarks with a group of friends on a mission to make contact with an alien species on another planet, believing that the mission is divinely inspired because of the connections of his friends--all with complementary talents--to the Arecibo observatory, where the signals from the other planet--singing--are first heard.  What begins as hopeful cultural exchange ends in disaster, murder, civil (or interspecies?) war, and the priest's debasement into a sexual slave for the famed alien poet whose songs he once heard on the Arecibo receiver.  The priest, left to cope alone with the loss of his friends and the disfigurement and violation of his body, questions the existence of God, and tries desperately to find meaning in this loss.  The story is told in flashbacks from a hearing where he is forced to recount the painful details of the expedition to an audience of priests and judges who see the mission very differently.

So what does this have to do with anything?  In some ways, so many of us in the ALI community are a little bit like Emilio: on a (divinely) inspired mission (to conceive a child), full of hope, full of faith.  Then, tragedy.  The very thing we believe in turns on us: our bodies betray us, and either we wait, cycle after cycle, for news that seems never to come, or we are about to touch what we came for, and then lose everything, sometimes multiple times.  We are all here because we need to tell the story of our journey, to make sure that people see it as we see it, or at least to let them hear our words.  And we're also here because we need to hear those stories; we need to bear witness so that we can make them real.   There are times when we don't speak the same "language" about ALI.  But that doesn't matter so much as just being here.

Maybe I've just answered my own question about prayer.  That empathy, perhaps, doesn't need to speak the same spiritual language, or that we can use a common language to mean different things that really, in the end, are part of the same feeling, even if they're not part of the same practice.  I'd love to hear what you think, though.

A heavy post for a weekend.  I'll be mulling this over a late-summer warming, comforting soup, for when the nights get a little bit cooler, even when the days are warm.  Thanks for being there for each other here in the blogosphere, for listening, for reading, and for speaking, even when it may be hard to make those translations.

Tomato, White Bean, and Bacon Soup

1/4 pound bacon (veggie bacon is fine ... it's for the smoky flavor and for some fat to cook the onions), diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups peeled, chopped potatoes (recommend Yukon Gold)
6 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned whole tomatoes with juice)*
2 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained (I use canned white beans here for their convenience. If you want you can take this soup up a notch and use dry beans that you've soaked overnight and cooked until soft.)
Salt and pepper to taste
* To peel fresh tomatoes, cut a shallow cross on one end, blanch in boiling water for about 30 seconds, remove from boiling water and the peels should easily come off.  Or, be lazy like me and don't bother peeling them.

Cook bacon on medium heat in a large saucepan until lightly browned and fat is rendered. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from the pan. Set on a plate lined with a paper towel.

Add the chopped onion to the pot, cook in the bacon fat on medium heat until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more. Add the chopped peeled potatoes and cook a few minutes more.

Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Cook until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes (or longer).

Stir in the brown sugar. Add half of the beans to the mixture. Use an immersion blender to blend about half of the soup mixture (or blend half of the soup in a standing blender and return to the pot).

Add bacon to the soup and the rest of the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cats, Bags, and Vegetarian NoNoodle Lasagne

Well, it's done.  Cat's out of the bag.  Everyone knows; I told my boss, and then I made it facebook-official.  It's just easier that way; though I've read a lot of posts lately about how ecstatic facebook posts are less-than-welcome news for my fellow ALI community members, I weighed the options, and decided to go for it.  And then, I was doing a training for about 100 students this afternoon, and one of them asked me about a course I regularly teach in the spring, so I told them, too.  What the hell, I thought.  When I think about what I've done, it's a little scary ... if things don't work out now, there are a lot of people who know, and would have to be told otherwise.  But there would be a lot of people who'd know anyway, if they saw me on the street.

My boss was spectacularly supportive, said that she saw my name on her calendar, and was hoping that was what I was coming to see her about.  Told me that we'd figure out a way to help me take the time I needed, even if we needed to hire an extra hand for some of the work that I could parcel out (me: um, with a 96 million dollar budget gap for the year? really?).  I have a long list of things that need to get done in the spring: there are lots of moving parts, some of which could be done by someone else, all of which need some sort of central brain for coordination.  But it's good that she thinks this is possible, and she even said I should entertain the idea of spending as much time at home over the summer as possible.  She wants me to talk with her boss (which I'd planned to do anyway, since he's the one with decision-making power over the unit), but said I should ask for what I need.  A flexible work schedule for five months would be a dream.  Of course, she's a faculty member, so she can imagine things like that.

Then again, what she didn't say to me today, and what I happen to know from a "grapevine" conversation I had yesterday, is that she's leaving in January.  Leaving her position, and leaving the country for an exchange.  Which is lovely for her, but also means that I'm talking with a lame-duck boss, and that I'll be greeting the new person who starts in that position with a half-assed presence in my office.  Nothing like making a great first impression.

But I can't worry about that now.  Right now, I've got a bean doing some serious back flips in utero.  And plenty of work to keep me busy as the semester starts, and a husband who is out of town for the week, and an almost-four-year old who has been mischievous as all get-out lately and a huge pain to get out the door by 7:15am, and laundry to do, and dinner to cook, and cupcakes to make for the two new neighbors on our block.

Technically, I made this dish last week, but it's an opportune moment to share it with you, because it uses more eggplant (4 pounds of which arrived this week in our CSA share), and you could use homemade tomato sauce if you're drowning in tomatoes and are so inclined, and it's one of those things you can throw together when you have about a billion other things to worry about, and it doesn't heat up your kitchen if you're still in the middle of summer, like we are here.  I was anti-crock pot for a long time, until I discovered that you could do things with it other than what my mother did with it when I was growing up--things that didn't involve meat that came out like shoe leather.  Things with ... horrors ... VEGETABLES.


No-Noodle Vegetable Lasagna
adapted from Stephanie O'Dea's Year of Slow Cooking

1 26 oz jar tomato sauce 
1 small container of ricotta cheese (I recycled the plastic already. 10 oz? 12 oz?) 
12 slices of mozzarella cheese 
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1 c. shredded parmesan
1 large eggplant, sliced 1/4" thick
3 zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
bag of baby spinach 
2 T. warm water

In the bottom of your crockpot, pour about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. Layer squash and eggplant to cover the bottom. Smear about a third of your ricotta cheese on top. Add a handful of baby spinach and mushrooms, and a few slices of mozzarella cheese. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Continue layering the ingredients until your crockpot is full, and you have run out of ingredients. Top with the end of the pasta sauce and the shredded cheese. Eat any remaining ingredients.  Put 2 tablespoons of warm water into the empty pasta sauce jar, cover, and shake. Pour the remaining sauce on top of everything.
Cover your crockpot and cook on low for 5-8 hours. I usually leave it on for 6, but then it stays on the warm setting for the rest of the day.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baby Bump and Baingan Bharta

Big week.  I have an appointment to tell my boss the news on Tuesday, provided I'm still pregnant, and once that cat is out of the bag, it's fair game to broadcast.  This is probably a good thing, since now my baby bump is unmistakeable.

In the meantime, I'm still cooking like a madwoman, trying to figure out how I'm going to eat this week's CSA share with only a preschooler to help me.  (Anyone want to come for dinner?  ICLW folks?  Anyone?)

Despite my reliance on the internet for inspiration, I have a long list of cookbooks that I keep meaning to borrow from the library.  Luckily, the other day S. picked one up for me ... just in time for me to find an answer to the problem of the CSA boxed share eggplants.

S. is not a huge eggplant fan.  I understand; it's sort of a strange vegetable.  Tough if undercooked, mushy and slimy if overcooked, potentially bitter.  I do like eggplant, though, particularly in Mediterranean dips and spreads, and Indian food, especially baingan bharta.  Baingan bharta is technically supposed to be smoked eggplant; in Punjab, you might see people put the eggplant whole into the hot ashes of an outdoor stove, where it will char and blacken on the outside.  Then, the eggplant is peeled and cooked with spices.  Roasted eggplant is light and easily digestible.   Though it's more of a winter dish (because it "increases temperament,") this is also another one of those recipes that can be served cold, for hot summer days.

When it comes to cooking Indian food, Madhur Jaffrey is pretty much my go-to guru (no pun intended).  The book S. found is actually called World Vegetarian, though; it's a mix of cultures, emphasis on Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean/ South Asian foods.  I mostly followed her recipe, but threw in a little garam masala and lemon juice.  I was pleasantly surprised by how authentic it tasted, and even more pleasantly surprised when Ian ate it (and the chickpeas and kale that I served as the other main dish) without much comment or complaint.  He seemed to like trying to pronounce the words, "baingan bharta," and like most typical preschoolers, started giggling uncontrollably when, turning over the phrase on his tongue, he happened upon "bangin' barfa."

You don't need to know how to pronounce it in order to make it, though.  I recommend that you serve this with naan or roti or chapati, and consider some greens and a mango lassi.   Whatever you do, enjoy the alliteration.

Baingan Bharta

4-5 T. light olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onions
1 (2"x1") piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated to a pulp
1 c. peeled and chopped very ripe tomatoes (though it's OK not to peel them if you're feeling lazy like I was)
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. cayenne
3/4 t. salt
1/8 to 1/4 t. garam masala
1 large eggplant (1 1/2 lbs.)
2-3 T. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
splash of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450.  Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and place it in a shallow baking dish.  Bake, turning every 15 minutes.  One pound of eggplants will take about an hour.  They should flatten and turn very soft.  Then peel the eggplants, chop off the stem end, and chop coarsely.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Add the onions; stir fry until brown around the edges.  Add the ginger and stir for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes, and stir fry until slightly reduced, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add cumin, cayenne, garam masala, and salt; stir to mix.  Now stir in the eggplant.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 10-14 minutes.  Add cilantro and lemon juice and mix well.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stuffed: Southwestern Bell Peppers

So I'm feeling a bit like a stuffed turkey these days.  I find that even when my belly feels stretched tight, I'm sometimes hungry.  Right now, it's full of Greek food from one of my favorite lunch spots at work (not that I go out all that often, but when I do, it's here!).  But even better, guess who came for lunch?

I bet you're not ready for this.

My.  Mother.

Emailed me this morning, asking if I were free.  I almost fell out of my chair.

After the less-than-satisfying conversation I had with her the other day, and a lot of thinking and processing on my part, I sent her a very grown up (and short) email, saying that I was surprised that she didn't ask about my due date right away, and that I hoped that she might come have lunch with me some day to celebrate me making it this far into the pregnancy (yes, JeCathRe, I know I wasn't ready yet for people to be excited when I saw you last), that I'd like that.  She had written back that she'd love to, but was busy (important side note: my mother is retired, and not currently employed at anything besides going to the Y and watching the Food Network).  I sucked in my breath (and my knee-jerk "annoyed" response), writing back that I was sorry to hear she was so busy, that she should let me know when she was free, and mentioned that she was the first family member to know about our news.  I don't know what happened in between on her end of things, but all I know is that I got an email this morning, that my belly is now stuffed full of delicious Greek food, and I feel slightly more emotionally satisfied (not stuffed), even if my relationship with mother is not perfect, and she still isn't the person I'd want her to be.

I made these the other day when I was expecting peppers in our CSA share.  They're not Greek food, but they're vegetarian, and full of protein; you can make them, and feel stuffed, too.

Southwestern Bell Peppers
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 8-oz. pkg. mushrooms, stems removed and saved for another use and caps sliced very thin
1/2 of a poblano pepper, diced
2 t. ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 – 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 c. quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 c. grated carrot
1 1/2 c. grated reduced-fat pepper Jack cheese, divided
4 large red bell peppers (as you can see, I used green and we lived), halved lengthwise, ribs removed

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and poblano pepper and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in mushrooms and drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.

Stir in quinoa, carrots, and 1 3/4 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Combine quinoa and carrots with black beans, 1 cup of cheese, and the onion mixture from the first step, . Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.

Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 40 minutes. Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 tablespoon of remaining cheese. Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

How To React When Your Daughter Tells You She's Pregnant

(with apologies to my faithful followers who enjoy the recipes, because I have none today ...)

This is what I would send to my mother, if I had the guts to do so.  But it's probably not advisable, anyway.

Dear Mom,

When your daughter calls you on her way home from a great appointment at the Ob/gyn office, and you ask her what's new, and she says she's pregnant, don't just say, "I'm very happy for you" in a flat tone of voice that sounds like you're talking with a complete stranger.  She is, after all, your daughter.

Don't say "I guess your body was ready this time," as if there was something she could have done about her body the last times.  Same with "good luck" at the end and "I hope it all goes well."  Yes, we know that not every birth is a guarantee.  Thank you, we know that quite well.  But in this case, right now, during this phone call, you're supposed to feel and respond in joy.

Don't say, "I guess you haven't had an ultrasound yet," as if you know.  You didn't ask how far along she is.  Instead, ask, so she doesn't have to volunteer that she's 16 weeks along halfway through the conversation, making her feel as if she's forcing this information on you. 

Don't ask her if she's happy.  Tell her how happy you are, not just for her, but for you, too.  After all, you're going to be a grandparent again.  This should make you feel excited.

Don't tell her that she should be taking prenatal vitamins.  First, she is on her way home from the ob/gyn, who probably prescribed whatever she needed.  Second, she has been taking prenatal vitamins for the past three years in an effort to make her body hospitable, should it see fit to conceive and keep an embryo.

Sound excited.  Sound even more excited than her friends, whom she hardly ever sees, and who noticed the baby bump during her trip to California, sounded.

Act interested.  You could ask about the due date, or the sex, and you could ask how she's feeling.  You could ask if she needs anything.  You could ask her when you can celebrate with her by meeting for lunch.

After all, she is calling you first.  Before her boss, her other in-laws, before most of her friends (except the ones who happen to live in the blogging world.).  Treasure that gift.  Don't minimize it by saying that you figured it's none of your business.

Your Daughter
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Delicate Balance: Pistachio Rosewater Cupcakes

On Monday I will have my 16 week appointment at the ob/gyn.  The good news is that this is becoming more real to me by the day.  While I still haven't told my mother, people are starting to notice my not-so-flat stomach, so we've had to let them in on the news.  Everyone has been gushingly happy (though few of those people know about our losses), and I'm starting to realize that there is a cult of expectation growing around me, people who fully anticipate me having a live child in January.

I'm starting to think about the laundry, the diapers, the feedings ... everything we've left behind as Ian has gotten older.  I'm starting to worry that I'm not ready to do this again, that I will lose years of Ian growing up because I'm simply trying to keep my head above water, that this next child will only get half of my attention from the beginning.  I watch myself cooking and folding laundry at midnight, knowing that it will be even harder to manage it all.

Then again, I probably don't need to be baking pistachio rosewater cupcakes, which is what I was doing last night at midnight. 

We had more or less invited ourselves over to a colleague of S.'s today, to visit and swim in their pool (though I use the word "swim" loosely here, since Ian ... doesn't).  They are impeccable hosts, and always make an elaborate dinner when we visit, despite our protests.  We asked what we could bring, and they suggested the cupcakes they'd heard so much about.  (Really?  I thought.  How about a quart of grape tomatoes, instead?)

S. made a special request for these, after I turned down his request for the margarita cupcakes, citing the problem with a pregnant woman eating uncooked tequila, and not wanting to be left out of dessert.  They're an interesting departure from your run-of-the-mill cupcake: incredibly moist (because of the yogurt), delicate but dense, light but well-defined.  They remind me of a dessert from the Middle East, perhaps.  The nuttiness of the pistachio is a perfect complement to the floral undertones of the cake.

Maybe they're a reminder to keep all of this in perspective, to breathe, to try to strike a better balance not just when life changes again, but now, when I can practice doing so with only my sanity at stake.

Pistachio Rosewater Cupcakes

1/2 c. vanilla soy yogurt
2/3 c. soymilk
1/3 c. canola oil
3/4 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1-2 T. rosewater
1 c. plus 2 T. flour (you probably want to go with plain old white here)
2 T. cornstarch
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
generous pinch cardamom
1/3 chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 350.  Line muffin pan with 12 liners.  In a large bowl, whisk yogurt, milk, oil, sugar and rosewater.  Sift in flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom and salt.  Fill liners 3/4 full.  Bake 20-22 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack and let cool.  Frost.

Rosewater Frosting

1/4 c. + 1 T. margarine (Earth Balance)
1/4 c. + 1 T. shortening (Earth Balance)
2 c. powdered sugar
2 T. soymilk
1/2 t. rosewater

Beat margarine and shortening until fluffy.  Beat in powdered sugar VERY slowly (so you don't have an explosion in the kitchen); add soymilk and rosewater.  Beat again until fluffy.  Add more powdered sugar if you need to stiffen the frosting, but try refrigerating it, too, before you go overboard here.  You could add just a little bit of red food coloring if you were feeling like it.

Sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios if desired.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On Being There: Summer Squash Soup

This week, my yoga teacher asked us to try to return to the place before we knew how to think outside ourselves, before we knew how to busy our minds with past and present.  I like this idea, that we know how to do this, and have just forgotten, need little reminders.  As I was doubled over myself in downward facing dog, I couldn't help but think about how biking on Saturday was just like that: there was nothing except where I was, right then, right there.  And it was so refreshing, just to be there.  It's not easy, though.  I'm an expert wanderer; I'm rarely (mentally) wherever it is I actually am (physically).

Today, on the way home from work, I stopped at our farm.  The snap beans were picked pretty clean (or at least, I didn't see many that were 8" long, as they specified), the blackberries weren't quite ripe, and by the time I was done poking around in those parts of the field, I wasn't feeling much like hunting for okra.  But I'd come intending to pick flowers, and the whiteboard encouraged members to snip liberally (quantity: unlimited!).  As I clipped the blooms, making bouquets of fiery zinnias, delicately blushing snapdragons, and cheerful rudbeckia, I found myself drawn in.  Into the now.  In the midst of my senses, in the midst of color, in the haze and humidity of summer, feeling the sweat on my back, I sensed the space around my body and the bump in my belly, completely present to myself.  I could have stayed in that field all day, despite the heat, and in fact, before I knew it, more time had passed than I'd intended to spend there.

I once had a friend guide me through a meditation on a raisin.  We each took one raisin in our mouths, felt its texture with our tongues, bit it and savored the first drops of sweetness, chewed slowly and observed the taste and texture change.  We so often rush through our meals, but perhaps this is a good practice; after all, we all have to eat, so it's as good a place as any to begin mindfulness and being present.  This soup might be a good one to try that with, because (especially topped with almonds) there's such a variety of taste and texture: creamy, tangy, crunchy, toasted.

I found the recipe last year I was looking for things to do with zucchini (not that I had much to speak of at the time, like I do this year) and happened upon a post at 101 Cookbooks.  Though I tend to think of buttermilk as something that I either put in cake to make it moist or that old people drink straight up, I decided to give it a try.  The buttermilk gives it a creamy tang, though, that complements the potatoes and zucchinis beautifully.  You could substitute half and half or soymilk if that's what you have on hand, though, or if your diet requires it.  I discovered that the soup was even good cold the next day ... so it would probably make for great picnic fare.  But you don't need to go there right now.

Buttermilk Summer Squash Soup

If you like a deeper green soup (and some bonus nutrition), add a handful of chopped spinach toward the very end - a minute or so before pureeing.

a generous splash of olive oil (2 T.)
3 large shallots, chopped
a couple pinches of fine-grain sea salt
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3-inch sprig of rosemary
1 1/2 pounds yellow or green summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices/chunks
3/4 pound potatoes, un-peeled, cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups lightly flavored vegetable stock or water
2/3 cup buttermilk
garnish with: fresh herbs, toasted almonds, a generous drizzle of olive oil/ melted butter, and/or some crumbled feta or goat cheese
Heat olive oil in large thick-bottomed pan over medium heat. Stir in the shallots, salt, red pepper flakes, and rosemary. Saute until shallots are tender - a couple of minutes. Stir in the squash and potatoes, and cook until the squash starts to get a bit tender - a few minutes. Stir in the garlic, remove the sprig of rosemary, and then add the stock (or water) to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Puree with a hand blender. If you like a silkier soup feel free to pour the soup through a strainer. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk, taste, and adjust the seasoning - adding more salt if needed. I like this soup topped with a bit of crumbled goat cheese and some toasted almonds - but it's perfectly good straight, too.
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

For Love and Other Reasons: Vanilla Cupcakes

It's been a while since I made cupcakes, which is sort of how this blog got started in the first place, but today, I baked.  Nothing halfway about it.

Last week it was our neighbor's birthday.  Her two adult children were home (from college in VT and from Washington), and I suspected that she'd be missing them when they left ... so there were two reasons to make her some cupcakes.  Then there's Mel's celebration of her 300th blog roundup.  We also had a new neighbor move in just a few doors down, and I've been meaning to make an introduction ... and finally, I was feeling celebratory myself: a good friend and colleague from work got married today, after waiting a long time to find the right person, and we were lucky enough to be there for the ceremony.  All that, and I had leftover buttermilk from the summer squash soup I made (which I'll post about tomorrow).

I rarely make non-vegan cupcakes (for reasons that are too complicated to go into here), but I found this recipe while looking for ways to use up the buttermilk, and thought that I might try it.  The key to both the frosting and the cupcakes is to beat the butter into oblivion.  If you think you've beat it enough, you should probably give it a few more minutes at high speed.

Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes

Makes 36

3 c. cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
2 1/4 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. coarse salt
1 c. plus 2 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 c. sugar
5 large whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks, room temperature
2 c. buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium. Add whole eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add yolks, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until combined after each. Beat in vanilla.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted
2-3 T. milk
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract

With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium. Add the confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium-high. This process should take about 5 minutes. Frosting will be very pale and fluffy.

Add milk and vanilla, and beat until frosting is smooth. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 10 days in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
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Summer's Bounty: Farmer's Tomato Pie

When we woke up on Saturday morning, we opened the windows.  It was remarkable: high 60s, sunny, a slight breeze in the air.  S. and I both went running (I much more slowly, and with some walk breaks, but still got my 5 miles in), and then we packed up the bikes and headed down to Stockton, where got on the towpath and rode to New Hope and back.  It couldn't have been a more perfect day for this little adventure; there was even a Civil War reenactment going on at the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Museum (a little more museum-like than Howell Living History farm, but cool nonetheless), and as a bonus, I even got to stop at the Stockton indoor farmer's market (my excuse: a crusty bread to go with a soup that I made for a friend who has a three week old baby), where they have fresh organic ice cream again "made with milk and cream from happy cows."  As we were biking back towards our car, I found myself thinking that though fall will always be my favorite season, I really do like summer, when it's not sweltering hot.

Late summer, of course, means tomatoes.  As long as I can remember summer has been a time to too many tomatoes; when I was little, and my father grew them in our back yard garden, my parents set me up at a little table on the corner of our street with bags of tomatoes, where I would sell them by the pound.  This was more than a little embarrassing for me, and I vowed that if I ever had too many tomatoes, I'd either give them away or find a way to use them.

I remember when I first found this recipe: I was overjoyed, because I had a bevvy of tomatoes from the garden of my own, and there's only so much fresh pasta sauce a girl can eat.  The recipe has evolved a lot since then (I learned, for example, that tomatoes get soupy if you don't seed them first, that paper towels work well to remove some of the excess moisture that could make for a soggy crust, and that cheese and mayonnaise actually go well together, despite the fact that it sounds like a  bad 1950s casserole).  The bacon is a fairly new addition, and is completely unnecessary, though the smoky flavor goes well with the cheddar version of the pie, so you could also use turkey or vegan bacon, if you felt inspired to do so.  The crust is from a recipe passed down to me from my mother-in-law, who got it from her sister, who used to work at a health food restaurant where it was the go-to quick crust, and I use it all the time with a variety of pies; sometimes I vary the balance of whole wheat to regular flour, but it never disappoints me, and I find I curse less at it when I'm rolling it out.

This dish does take some time to make (slicing and seeding tomatoes, rolling out crust, etc. etc.), but stick with it, knowing you'll be down a few pounds of tomatoes in the end, and it's not too terribly bad for you, even though it's sort of like eating dessert for dinner.  Certainly, it's better than eating a can of whipped cream.


Farmer's Tomato Pie

1 pie crust (see below)
1 1/3 c. shredded low fat cheddar or Italian blend cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. fine dry breadcrumbs
2 lbs. ripe tomatoes cut into wedges and seeded, dried between two sheets of double thickness paper towel
1 c. cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in halves
3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
1 t. salt
1-2 T. mayonnaise (vegan if you like)
1/4-1/2 c. loosely packed small basil leaves

Pie crust

1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. oil (canola or very mild olive)
1/8 - 1/4 c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Fork together flour and salt, make a well for the liquids.  Combine oil and water (I know, they don't mix) and dump them into the flour.  Fork together all of the ingredients until it forms a ball.  If you need to add more flour and water, do so.  The dough should be a little bit springy.

Roll out a prepared pie crust to a twelve-inch circle. Place in a 10" quiche pan or a 10" pie pan, and trim.  (Note: you could probably use a tart pan here, too, and just press the crust into the pan.  I've never tried this, but if you do, let me know how it works out.)  If using a pie pan, crimp the edges. Line the unpricked pastry with TWO thicknesses of foil. Bake 8 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 4-5 minutes, until set and dry. Remove from the oven.

Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees.


Sprinkle 1/3 c. cheese evenly over baked shell while it's still hot.
Sprinkle garlic evenly over cheese.
Sprinkle 2 t. breadcrumbs over garlic and cheese.
Top with 1/3 of the tomato wedges and 1/3 of the cherry tomatoes.
Sprinkle 1/3 c. cheese.
Sprinkle 2 t. of the dry breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle with half of the bacon, if using.
Top with 1/3 of the tomato wedges and 1/3 of the cherry tomatoes.
Sprinkle 1/3 c. cheese.
Sprinkle 2 tsp of the dry breadcrumbs.
Top with 3 of the tomato wedges and 1/3 of the cherry tomatoes.

Sprinkle with salt.  For the last layer, mix the last 1/3 c. cheese with mayonnaise, and spread (or crumble) evenly over the top.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and tomatoes are just beginning to brown.  Remove to wire rack, sprinkle with basil and let stand for 10 minutes.  At right: shiny plate club, courtesy of S.
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Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Comfort Food: Roasted Vegetable Soup

(with apologies to Mel, because there is no picture of cake here today ...)

I still haven't told my mother that I'm pregnant, and I seem to be rounding the corner to week 15.  She was, shall we say, less than supportive during the first two losses, and since then, I have found myself more and more reluctant to talk to her.  And then there's the fact that she just doesn't do what I'd expect a grandparent to do.  Case in point: a few weeks ago S. was away on business and I was taking students on a field trip to NYC by train, meaning I would be about 3 hours away from Ian because of transportation issues, and because I'd parked my car at work.  I asked my mother if she'd be available by cell in case something happened (she's about an hour away from Ian's school) and she told me that would be fine, that she'd be available after 11am when she got back from the Y.  Umm, right.  And what happens before then?  Let's just say I had someone else's number on speed dial that day.

But at some point I need to get over myself and tell her, as a good friend of mine so wisely pointed out, by spelling out how she should react, because delaying the news flash would just make her, and then me, more upset in the long run.  I think I've set myself a date of August 16, which would be my next ob/gyn appointment.  If things are still going well then, I think I can muster up the courage to start spreading the word.  I have been thinking a lot about the recent pregnancy losses among my fellow bloggers (Rebecca, Andie, and so many others); in the face of this reality, it is hard to be confident.  One day at a time, right?

In the meantime, I've started in on the tsunami of tomatoes coming from both our back yard and the CSA.  S. isn't a big gazpacho fan, so this is sort of the other direction; I've been making this soup for years, and I always find it comforting, even though it's a warm dish that ends up offering up its freshest flavors in the middle of the hottest part of the summer.  You could probably eat it cold, or even lukewarm, too, but the important thing is to get herbs and vegetables that have just been picked.  We even got to pull up some of our garden-grown mutant carrots for this one, and I used my still-new blender, which purees like a dream and made me crow with happiness.  Enjoy it with a crusty loaf of bread and a green salad, or some roasted potatoes, or just right off of the wooden spoon you're using to stir it.

Roasted Vegetable Soup

1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups water
2 3/4 cups (about) low-fat (1%) milk (could also use soy or rice milk for a vegan version)
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Arrange onion, tomatoes, carrots and garlic cloves on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are tender and brown, turning occasionally, about 55 minutes. Don't be afraid of brown.  Carbon is your friend in this dish.

Cool slightly. Peel garlic cloves. Transfer vegetables to large bowl (do not clean baking sheet). 

Add 1 cup water to baking sheet, scraping up browned bits; add to blender, then add half of vegetables and puree until smooth. Transfer to large saucepan. Add remaining vegetables and 1 1/2 cups water to blender and puree. Transfer to same saucepan. Gradually add enough milk to soup to thin to desired consistency. Stir in 1/4 cup basil. Simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to simmer before continuing.) 

Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup basil if you so desire, and serve.
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Things West, Things East: Thai Stir Fry

So we're back from California, a trip that was not nearly long enough.  All in all, we had a wonderful time; the weather was in the 60s (a welcome change from the NJ 90s with 90% humidity), and we got to ride cable cars, walk through the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park, take a cheesy boat tour around the SF Bay, visit the Monterey Bay aquarium, poke around in tide pools on the Carmel coastline.  Figuring that he couldn't spill any secrets while we were 3000 miles away from most people we knew, we told Ian about the "baby in Mommy's belly," and showed him the 12 week ultrasounds, to which he responded with a look of utter disbelief, "You're just kidding me!"  (I'm guessing that it will take a while for him to get used to that idea ... perhaps as long as it will take me?)

One wonderful thing about vacations, of course, is that they're an excuse to eat, and we did our share of that, too, including a dinner at the Plant Cafe Organic on the Embarcadero, which was simply amazing.  Those of you who live on the Left Coast owe it to yourself to go dine there.  Plentiful vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options ... though you could certainly be a carnivore there, too.  I didn't have a single bite of anything that wasn't outstanding.  Part of me worries that my bulging middle isn't just pregnancy, though.  Oh, and by the way?  The person who decided that a can of whipped cream has 33 servings in it was definitely delusional.

One thing I've been craving lately is Thai food.  And while we didn't have any in San Francisco (it seemed like sacrilege to eat Thai food when there was Chinatown within a 5 minute walk), I decided to do something Thai with whatever we happened to find in our refrigerator and garden when we got back.  The zucchini plants had been prolific in our absence (I am still laughing at S. who told me they would not grow ... one of them was the size of a baseball bat!), so I suspect you're going to see them featured prominently over the next few posts.  Turns out we also had Thai basil, so this stir fry was born.  This dish is a little bit different; light, fragrant, and adaptable to your tastes and your diet.  I suspect that a little bit of lemongrass (which I just learned tonight is available at the pick-your-own part of our CSA, rats!) would be a nice complement to the dish; just saute that in the olive oil for a few minutes first before you add the onions and zucchini.  If you're not a zucchini fan, some thin green beans would work just as well, or perhaps some broccoli.  Play with it.

Thai Stir Fry

1 - 2 T. light olive oil
2 large zucchini or other summer squash, sliced however you like them
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 T. lime juice
1 - 2 t. fish sauce
1 t. agave nectar (to taste)
1/2 lb cooked shrimp (or tofu or whatever form of protein you prefer)
1/4 c. Thai basil or cilantro (to taste)

Heat olive oil in a wok over medium high heat until hot but not smoking.  Add zucchini and onions.  Stir fry until mostly cooked through.  Add lime juice, fish sauce, shrimp and agave.  Stir fry, and season to taste.  (You may want to go easy on the fish sauce if you've never had it before; I promise, it tastes much better than it smells coming out of the bottle.)  Finish with Thai basil or cilantro, and serve over rice or quinoa, or eat it all by itself (this is what I did).
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cabbage (or whatever you have on hand) Pie

I've been holding on to this post for a while, perhaps because other things were looking more appealing.  But perhaps some of you are still working your way through the cabbage tsunami from your own CSA, and this recipe is wonderfully flexible, so really, whatever you have in your crisper would probably work just fine.  And the winter greens will be here before we know it.

The first time we saw cabbage in our box, we were a little depressed.  Cabbage soup?  Too hot out for soup, and it doesn't use up enough cabbage.  Stuffed cabbage rolls?  Too much work.  Cole slaw?  A veto from S., who simply doesn't like it.  And then there's the fact that cabbage, well ... tastes like cabbage.  At least it wasn't radicchio or curly endive, right?  (Actually, we'd gotten those, too.  Why do CSA farmers grow so many bitter greens?  Does it have something to do with the soil?  Please, someone explain this to me.)

Enter Mark Bittman, self proclaimed "vegan until 6 p.m." and food writer extraordinaire.  He (or his book, anyway), suggested cabbage pie. This seemed like a pretty good idea to me, since the bean in my belly makes me practically retch at the thought of green things, and prefers to munch on things like an entire bag of Pirate's Booty (sad but true; I swear it was the first time I've ever done that), cookie dough ice cream, and banana cupcakes.  I was sure I was going to gain 20 pounds before the first trimester is over.  So much for cutting back on carbs.  Yes, I thought, cabbage pie would disguise the green pretty thoroughly.

The nice thing about this dish is that (according to Bittman) you can put pretty much anything into it: mushrooms and bulgur, kale, broccoli, spinach.  And the crust is not terribly bad for you.  I haven't tried it with whole wheat pastry flour, but plan to do so next time.

Cabbage Pie

2 T. butter
1 medium head of cabbage, thinly sliced (or 8 leaves of collards or kale)
1 medium onion, diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. chopped mixed herbs (dill, parsley, thyme, etc.--whatever you like)
3 eggs
1 c. Greek style yogurt
3 T. mayonnaise
1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add cabbage/kale and onion, and saute for about 10 minutes until the leaves are tender but not brown.  Remove from heat, add herbs, and adjust seasonings.

Combine yogurt, eggs, and mayonnaise.  Add baking powder and flour, and mix until smooth.  Lightly butter a 9x12" baking dish, and spread half the batter over the bottom.  Top with cabbage.  Smear the remaining batter over the top with a spatula (or your fingers; it gets stubborn) so that there are NO holes.

Bake 45 minutes until shiny and golden brown.  Let the pie cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
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