Monday, August 29, 2011

Come On, Irene: Peach Pie

We filled up a 5 gallon tub of water, put our small basement freezer (the one with the breastmilk library) on cinder blocks, removed most of the stuff from our porch, bought a few containers of shelf-stable milk, and hunkered down to wait.  In the end, we were lucky. Hurricane Irene came and went, and though at 2 a.m. it was an impressive--even scary--storm, the worst of it for us was a little bit of water in our basement, where it always gets wet anyway when it rains hard. We lost power for a few hours, and I was sweating, thinking about the freezer, but it came back on at around 3:30, and I fell asleep in about five minutes.

Other people we know didn't fare so well: our neighbor across the street had the fire department come help her pump our her basement last night when we lost power, my friends dealing with the heart transplant also have a flooded basement, FB friends in northern NJ are dealing with broken and flooded dams, and my mother has been told she'll be without power until next Sunday.  The good news is that people are helping each other out.  There is something about crisis that drags people out of their houses and away from their facebook feeds (not that one can't help there, too, like they're doing over at Bloggers Without Borders for a fellow blogger with two little girls who just lost her husband to a suddden heart attack).  Disasters put things in perspective, remind us of what we do have, even while we're entitled to hope for something more or something different.  I hope that right now if you're in a place to do so, you can lend a hand to someone who needs it; that support is part of what I love about the blogging community.

I think, in part, we were lucky because Irene is the name of my grandma-in-law, and she always took good care of me, until she could no longer care for herself. I never knew my real grandparents, but my uncle's wife's mother was the best stand-in I could ask for. She was a matriarch, a woman who ruled her house with a wooden spoon and a rolling pin.  It was Grandma Irene who let me stay up to see my first New Years' Eve and have a sip of champagne, raised me on coconut bread and pumpkin pie. The kitchen was her domain, and I was one of the few people she'd allow to go in there while she was cooking. My book of recipes still has some of her favorites, scrawled in her handwriting.

Our CSA has been sending us peaches each week, and this week I simply couldn't keep up, since we also had a watermelon and a cantaloupe to eat.  S. doesn't like cooked peaches, but I decided to make a pie anyway and hope for the best.  The verdict was positive: he said it was actually pretty good, and my son, who has been awfully vocal about his perpetual hunger of late, had three pieces.  (We are reading Farmer Boy together at bedtime, and I've been struck by how often the nine year old boy talks about eating, and what enormous meals he eats.  I. has been reveling in the descriptions, saying, "mmmm, that sounds good.  I'm hungry.")

So in honor of my grandma Irene, who was a hurricane in her own right ... if you still have power, bake one of these up and take it over to share with a neighbor.  It's a little lower in sugar than some other recipes I've seen, letting the flavor of the peaches themselves shine through.

Tell us ... how did you fare in the storm, if you're on the East Coast?  Have you ever had to weather a natural disaster?  Do you have a Grandma Irene of your own?

Fresh Peach Pie

Pie crust

2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. oil (canola or very mild olive)
1/4 - 1/2 c. boiling water


1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3.4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 T. butter, at room temperature
8 to 10 large fresh peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced
1 egg whisked with 1 Tablespoon water (or a little milk of choice if you don't eat eggs)
course sugar for topping, optional

Preheat oven to 350 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. Divide the dough in two balls, roll one out and place one in a 9" pie pan.

In a medium bowl, use a pastry blender or fork to combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Mix until crumbly.

Scoop one layer of peaches into crust. Top with some of the crumbly sugar mixture. Layer more peaches and more crumbles. Continue until you've used up all of your peaches and crumbles. Roll out your second pie crust, and top your pie as desired. I cut mine into strips and created a lattice topping. If you'd like to cover the pie completely with the 2nd crust, just be sure to cut a few slits into the top crust to give that crust a chance to breathe while baking. Crimp the edges decoratively.

Brush the top with the egg wash (or with milk), and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you wish (I skipped this part).

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. I start checking on my pie at 45 minutes, just to make sure the crust isn't browning too quickly and all looks good. Then I check every 15 minutes until I'm satisfied that it's done. Mine took an hour and 10 minutes, and it was nice and golden brown along the crust with the peach filling bubbling a bit in the center.

Cool until ready to eat.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Shreds of Summer: Korean Zucchini Pancakes

I'm not sure what it is lately, but I've been a pretty negligent blogger.  Part of it is the CSA.  Apparently, the universe is having the last laugh after all of my complaining about chard last summer: we have had eight (8) weeks straight of mostly zucchini/summer squash (which might as well be the same thing, in my book) and cucumber this year.  I've eaten about as many cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches as I can stand.  I've also just about exhausted the variations on squash-for-dinner, and I hate to subject you, my dear readers, to yet another one.  (I will anyway, but that's besides the point.)

But the other part of it is that life has sort of gotten away from me this summer.  Here's a quick update, in shreds, like the zucchini waiting to be added to the next round of dinner.

*          *          * 

I always get an itch to chop off my hair at this time of year.  It must be something about the beginning of the academic year; working in academe for 12 years has irrevocably tied my biorhythms to the academic calendar.  I got a sort-of job offer about four weeks ago now, back at the same university I'd left, working for a very different group of people, doing something that's quite a bit different.  Down side: huge salary cut, too much to justify day care for two plus the commute.  Up side: they're trying to work something out.  Down side: I'm in employment limbo.  I guess I'm preparing myself for the first day of school, just in case.

*          *          *

My son I. will turn five this year, and he's decided that he wants a friend-party this time, all about space.  We're doing a party at home, and I have been scouring the internets for party activity ideas.  So yes, among other things, I'm making cereal-box jet packs (complete with NASA stickers; now THAT was a find) and molding baking soda paste around small astronaut figures, which I am baking into "moon rocks," to be hunted for in a kiddie pool full of balloons.  Partygoers will drop said "moon rocks" into vinegar, oooh and aaaah at the fizzy effect, and retrieve astronaut for a souvenir.  I have tried this once so far and it worked, impressing I., so I'm hoping it wasn't a fluke.  I wondered briefly if it was sacrilegious or something to be baking an astronaut, and then decided it was OK.

*          *          * 

I got a speeding ticket recently for which I had to appear in court.  Mind you, I am generally not an unsafe driver; it was a particularly bad day, and I was paying no attention to how fast I was going, my mind in Philly with my heart-transplant friend, on being unemployed and not on unemployment, and on my destination (knowing that I was going to have a screaming child in my back seat at any minute, since N just LOVES her car seat ... not).  Of course, I had to take N to court with me.  Of course, she was due to be hungry just as court was to begin.  Of course, I tried to nurse her in the back row of the courtroom, and she proceeded to squirm and scream.  At the front of the courtroom, someone said "lady with the baby, please come forward."  I was so flustered by the whole experience that I didn't rebutton my shirt or tuck my boob back into my bra.  No, friends: I walked right down that aisle, exposed lactating boob covered only in my Moby, and that not even very well.  They reduced the penalty so that I would plead guilty and get the heck out of court.  I quickly agreed to this arrangement, and returned to the courtroom, where N proceeded to squawk like a parrot, and I was asked to leave until fetched by an officer to record my plea.  I'm not sure if she's going to be a lawyer or someone who practices civil disobedience.

*          *          *

My friend who had the heart transplant is still in ICU, after yet another surgery to close a "flap" and remove an infection that had spread the length of his torso.  I can't even begin to imagine what this has been like for him and his family.  His boys have been coming here for playdates once in a while, but I feel incredibly powerless to help, short of meal delivery, which I've been coordinating.

*          *          *

And my mother also managed to get herself stuck in the hospital with a kidney infection.  She insists that she is fine and doesn't need me to visit, but I am, of course, concerned; even if our relationship is imperfect, she is still my mother.  And while it may not be very serious, it would be nice to know that she's getting out soon.

*          *          * 

A hurricane is apparently coming, and I have a freezer chock full of breastmilk.  Anyone want to lend me a generator?

How about you?  Are you preparing for a hurricane?  Drowning in squash?  Baking spacemen?  Pull up a chair, stay and chat, and have a zucchini pancake.  Take my zucchini, please!

Zucchini Pancakes

600g – 700g zucchini or summer squash
2 t. salt
2 carrots, grated
1 large onion
2 c. flour
2 large eggs
2 cups water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dipping sauce ingredients
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
** Optional: 1 tsp gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)

Top and tail your zucchini, then slice it into matchsticks.

Toss the zucchini with the 2 teaspoons of salt, then set over a colander for 30 minutes to allow the zucchini to soften and the liquid to drain out.

While the zucchini is softening, lightly beat the eggs together till combined.

Add the flour and whisk in till thoroughly incorporated, then add the water gradually, ensuring that you whisk well after each cup addition. Once the batter reaches the consistency of thin pancake batter (thin but not watery), add the strained zucchini and mix in.

Grate in the onion for a little sweetness, then add the grated carrot and stir in till everything is well combined.

Heat a non-stick frying pan (preferably cast iron for the even heat distribution and retention) with a little oil over low heat, then add about 1/2 to 1 cup batter to the frying pan.

When you pour in the batter, it should be no more than about 3-4mm thick at most in the pan. Feel free to spread the vegetables out into an even layer with a spoon to ensure even thickness and cooking.

Once the bottom of the pancake is browned and the top is dry and set, carefully flip it over and cook till the top layer is also browned, then set aside on a paper towel to drain. Serve warm.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Passing the Baton: Summer Squash and Mushroom Mini-Pies

I haven't really been running very much lately.  It's impossible to do on the weekdays, with N. to consider, and it's even a challenge on the weekends, given all of the things we have to fit into those 48 hours.  So it should come as no surprise that I'm pudgier where I wasn't before, and that I get more winded than I used to, and that I'm just generally not in as awesome shape as I was before N. was born.
I got a chance to go this past weekend for a quick 5K loop, and was dragging my sorry butt past the bagel store when I spotted her.  Fiftysomething, tanned (but not withered), muscular (but not sinewy), rubber-band like, platinum blonde in skin-tight black running clothes, adjusting her water and goo belt.  She looked at me, and there was a moment of recognition: perhaps she saw in me my former skinnier more energetic self; perhaps she saw herself from a previous life.  Whatever it was, she grinned as I drew nearer, and said, "lookin' good, sister!"

I shook my head and made a "ugh" face, but she held out her hand for me to slap as I passed her by.  I hesitated for a split second, and then extended mine.  SLAP.  "There you go," she shouted after me.  "That's your energy now, girl.  Remember that when you're running out of steam at the end."

I thought about a lot of things during the rest of that run.  I thought about the times when I've said something like that to someone else I thought might need a little inspiration.  I thought about what I must have looked like to elicit such a response from her.  But most of all, I found myself thinking about that hand slap, and the energy that she claimed got transferred as we passed each other.

The thing is, I could swear I ran a little faster.  My hand tingled, and if I let it, my arm tingled.  If I really thought about it, my toes tingled.

Life is like the love-child of a relay race and a marathon.  In some ways, we run the distance alone.  But in others, the passing of the baton, the slapping of the hand as we pass by our fellow runners, especially the ones who are outpacing us, already on the way back, can make all the difference.  How many times have we extended our own hands to pass that energy on to another?  How many times has someone offered that hand to us?  And how many times have we accepted it, despite the fact that it means looking in the face of success, and maybe feeling a little bit like we haven't reached the place where we want to be just yet?

These are good for days when you're on the run.  And they're also good to drop into the hand of someone you love as they pass by on a parallel track.

Summer Squash and Mushroom Mini-Pie

2 c. flour (I use at least half whole wheat pastry, sometimes all whole wheat pastry)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. oil (canola or olive)
1/4 to 1/2 c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour and salt. In a glass measuring cup, combine oil and water. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and fork together until the dough starts to form a ball. It should be smooth; if it's too sticky, add more flour until it bounces back just a bit when you poke it. Divide into two balls.

1 T. olive oil
5 oz. mushrooms
1 medium to large zucchini
1/2 onion
1-2 t. oregano or rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 egg, beaten

Chop up veggies into large bite sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and saute the zucchini and onion until the onion is starting to become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and herbs and salt/pepper and saute until almost dry.

Let cool, and add the greek yogurt. Mix well.

Roll out the first ball of dough and cut small pieces of your crust (about 5 inches in diameter, maybe) and press into a small silicone muffin tin (you can use regular muffin tins but I loved how they just popped right out of mine). Fill with filling. Roll out the second ball and use a drinking glass to cut circles for the tops of the pies. Crimp the edges shut.

Brush with egg and bake for about 30 minutes.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Value of a Life, and Zucchini Fritters

The lovely Athena from A Field of Dreams awarded me a Blog of Substance award. I'm humbled to receive this considering that I've been the world's most unpredictable post-er lately ... but I'll try to have substance today, and pass the award on next time (so I have a good reason to get my arse in gear and write again).

I've mentioned before how I was raised by parents who were both frugal and extravagant when it came to money.  We pinched pennies at the grocery store, but my father drove a Mercedes Benz.   We patched clothes, but I went to dance and piano lessons.  We ate, but we went on a family vacation every summer, often to some international (Spanish-speaking, because my dad was from Spain, via Cuba) destination.  I inherited this somewhat bipolar approach to finances; from a young age, I evaluated and appreciated things in terms of their monetary value, pinching pennies at home so that I could afford the occasional big ticket items for my family (and, so I'm not kidding myself, the occasional Frapuccino).

Which makes being a professional-turned-SAHM a bit of a psychological challenge.  How do I appreciate the value of my work if I'm not being paid?  And then, how do I reconcile this kind of value with the fact that I'm bleeding money these days without replenishing the family bank account?  There are the usual expenses, of course, and then there was a small car accident earlier this summer, and a speeding ticket that will require a court appearance (I'm really not a reckless driver ... don't judge me on the basis of these two events!), and little outings with my son (like the trip to a place in our town that serves high tea for children -- his request), and the things (mostly consumables) I buy because I'm home wandering the streets, and ... well, you get the idea.

To make matters worse, there is the small matter of the potential salary cut I'd be taking if this job offer does come through ... and the fact that almost every other job people have been sending me is at a range lower than where I was before.  Does this mean that my potential value on the market is really so low, even if I were making money to contribute to household expenses?  Was my former position a fluke?

It sounds mercenary to think in these terms, but it's hard not to when there are bills to be paid, and when I seem to keep generating so many of them myself.

And yet, when I think of the value of others, I don't think in those terms at all ...

My friend who is in heart failure has been struggling over the past week with a balloon assist, with various meds, and finally with an external pump to help his heart recover.  None of this has been proving particularly successful, and they finally decided, today, to go forward with a transplant.  So they're waiting for a heart to "harvest," possibly as early as within the next 24 hours.

It's a very strange feeling to be praying for someone's death so that someone else might live, but that's where I am right now.  The world would be a measurably darker place without my friend; I need him, selfishly, to live.  His two little boys and his wife, who are among the most wonderful people I know, need him.  His fellowship needs him.  His friends need him.  And yet, how can I tell the universe (or whoever happens to be listening) that his life is worth more than the life of someone who might be a potential donor?

These fritters are supposed to be inspired by Southern cooking, so I'm posting them here in honor of my friend, who is a stay at home dad and probably the best example of Southern hospitality I know.  One of the things that I love about him (among so many things -- his centeredness, his faith, his generosity) is that he seems not to question the value of his contribution to his family and to the world; he's comfortable knowing that his living makes a difference.  Though it's almost a morbid thing to hope for, I hope that there is someone out there who can live on in him through their heart.  I know that he would take good care of it, and put it to the best possible use.

Zucchini Fritters

2 c. grated summer squash or zucchini
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. cornmeal
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Press the squash between layers of a clean tea towel to get rid of excess moisture. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together. It should form a sticky mass. If at first it seems dry, continue to stir—the salt will cause the zucchini to ‘sweat’, and it will get wetter.

Drop heaping spoonfuls onto the parchment paper, and then flatten with the spoon to form 2-3 inch rounds. You don’t want these to be very thick, as we want them to crisp up.

Bake for 15 minutes or so, until the fritters are deep golden brown on the bottom. Then broil on high for 2-3 minutes, until the fritters are completely crunchy on the outside, and still give a bit on the inside.
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Lesson in Versatility: Calabacitas

One of my most vivid summer memories from childhood is the view from the back stoop of our house, looking out at the lush greenery of my father's small but overgrown garden. There were always too many tomato plants, too many kohlrabis, too many of everything ... especially zucchinis. My father took great pride in his "bastóns," though, growing them as large as baseball bats, just because he could.  My mother would curse them under her breath as they lined the counters; she didn't have much counter space to begin with.  I would often be charged with the responsibility of bringing paper bags full of the vegetable to unsuspecting neighbors, who would always politely accept the "gift."  I also recall selling them from a small shaky plastic table on our street corner, which, in retrospect, must have seemed pretty weird to passersby, given that I grew up in the middle of suburbia, New Jersey.

Now, as an adult with a CSA membership, I have come to understand that it's better to be armed with an arsenal of summer squash recipes than to make innocent children responsible for your oversupply.  My mother's repertoire was somewhat limited to sauteeing in olive oil or grating into zucchini breads, but I've learned that they're a lot more versatile than that.  As I've worked our way through yet another week of the stuff, I'm reminded of that great quote from Forrest Gump: "You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it." Bubba nailed it: just substitute "zucchini" for "shrimp," add "cake" and "bread," and you're pretty well prepared for the onslaught.

This is a pretty, quick, simple Southwestern vegetarian dish that also takes advantage of the local corn that's also in abundance at farmers' markets at this time of year in my corner of the world.  It's good with tortillas for a light meal. 

Wouldn't it be nice if we were all as versatile and agreeable to all dinner companions as the humble summer squash?  Yes, yes, it would be.


3-4 T. olive oil, divided
1 c. finely chopped onion
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 c. diced summer squash
2 1/2 c. diced zucchini
2 c. corn kernels, fresh or frozen

6 scallions, chopped (3/4 cup)
1/2 c. chopped mild green chiles, roasted, with skin removed (or a small can of diced green chiles)
1 cup diced ripe Roma tomatoes
1/2 c. firmly packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I totally forgot this in mine, and it was OK)
1/2 c. cream or grated Jack cheese (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat 2 T. of the oil in a large skillet and saute the onion for about 4 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes longer.  Add the squash and zucchini and saute 5 minutes longer, until softened.

Add the remaining 1 to 2 T. of oil with the corn, scallions, and chiles and saute 3 minutes longer.  Stir in the tomatoes, cilantro, and cream (if desired) and heat through, about 5 minutes.

Season with salt. Serve hot or warm.
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