Tuesday, June 27, 2017

roasted zucchini parmesan

Last night’s meal screamed summer: corn, a loaf of fresh sourdough bread, and this roasted zucchini Parmesan of which I was most proud because: ooh-la-la delicious, my husband took seconds (and then packed leftovers for his lunch), and the kids’ fussing was pleasantly minimal. (What the heck—two colons in one sentence? Is that even legal?)


I’m always looking for new ways to serve zucchini and this one:

*(like I already said) tastes delicious
*uses a substantial quantity of zucchini
*can be assembled ahead of time
*makes good leftovers

I was afraid the zucchini, which gets roasted in the oven and then baked in the casserole, might be mushy-soggy, but no. It was tender and velvety, almost creamy. I also worried it wouldn’t be flavorful enough—there are no spices, just salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and then the tomato sauce and cheeses—but it’s packed with flavored. Maybe because of the twice-baking? In any case, it’s lovely.


I served it with crusty bread to sop up the juices, but this would go well with rice, too, or just serve it alongside whatever else you’re making for dinner. You won’t regret it.


Roasted Zucchini Parmesan
Adapted from the New York Times.

I used a pint of my homemade pizza sauce in place of the fresh tomato sauce that the recipe called for, but any garlicky pizza sauce would be fine. And I added mozzarella.

If you want to make this a heftier dish, the addition of browned bulk sausage and/or sauteed mushrooms would be fab. Update, July 27, 2017: to one pan, I added a pound of browned, bulk sausage and sauteed onions, plus fresh basil and oregano. It was an enormous hit.

2 ¼ pounds zucchini
2 cups roasted tomato and garlic pizza sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt and black pepper

Roast the zucchini:
Slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch slices and place them in a single layer on parchment-lined, sided baking sheets. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Flip the slices of zucchini and give the same oil-and-seasoning treatment to the other side.

Roast at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Take the pans from the oven and flip the zucchini slices. Return the pans to the oven (first one and then the other) and broil for 3 minutes.

Assemble and bake:
Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Spread a quarter cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Cover with a single layer of zucchini slices. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the zucchini and sprinkle with a third of the mozzarella and a third of the Parmesan. Repeat: zucchini, the rest of the sauce, a third of the cheeses. Make a final layer of the zucchini slices and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the top. At this point the pan can be covered and stored in the fridge for a couple days, if desired.

Bake the casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Let set at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.27.16), futbol, dark chocolate zucchini cake, a break in the clouds, honeyed apricot almond cake, red beet greens.

Monday, June 26, 2017

the quotidian (6.26.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


The pancakes on the right are missing a crucial ingredient. Can you guess?


Got milk?


Moving on from lettuce and spinach: beet greens.


Saucy.




The baker's table (and toes).


Pro tip: donuts soften the blow of a heavy to-do list. 


A tack(y) cleaning party.


Single-handedly putting it up.


In knots.


Running the numbers.


Summer feet.


That cast stinks to high heaven: one of the many reasons why, probably.

This same time, years previous: fruit-filled coffee cake, seven nothings, better iced coffee, my ethical scapegoat, on slaying boredom, the quotidian (6.25.12), chocolate peanut butter cake, lemon ice cream with red raspberries, slushy mojitos, the chicken that's been missing from your life.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

buttermilk brownies

Grouching around the house the other day, I said to my husband, “In the morning I go running, which is miserable, and then I go write, which is also miserable. I don’t know why I bother getting up.” But then yesterday I had a day off from writing and I was all whiney because I missed writing, so go figure.

I get in these spells, these creative voids, when there is NOTHING going on (and we all know I work best under pressure). I have no reason to complain---everything is peaches-n-cream---but I feel depleted. There's no fire. For example, these days...

*I have no one to cook for. Now that Melissa and my older son are gone, we’re down to five people in this house. Feeding five people is peanuts.

*The younger kids are perfectly happy to be left alone. If they had their way, they’d spend the entire day reading. Remember when I used to ache for the day my kids could read?

*Writing is a grueling process. Most days when I leave off writing, the word jumble is thick, practically indecipherable, leaving me feeling unaccomplished and at odds. There is no glory.

*The kids do most of the cleaning/laundry/yard work. Why am I here?

Yesterday I woke up grumpy ('tis a theme), realizing too late that I should’ve chosen that day to sleep in and be lazy. But the ball was already rolling, so I sweated out the four miles and then set about facing the long day ahead. In a self-pitying email dump to a friend, I wrote: "So I made a list and I’m going to make myself Do The Things and I’ll keep breathing and eventually I’ll make it through."

On that list was brownies.


Buttermilk brownies, to be exact, made with browned butter, oat flour instead of regular flour, and liberally studded with three kinds of chocolate. I also read to the children (this and this), finished my book (what next?), drank a large coffee and then dozed off and on for two hours (bliss), and took a big container of chilled watermelon chunks to my husband who has no time for existential crises because he’s busy spending his ten-hour work days hauling around great enormous beams in the broiling sun, bless his heart.


But those brownies… They were a smash hit. After our supper of leftovers (I told you I don’t cook) I served them, topped with scoops of coffee ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce, for dessert. 



They saved the day, pretty much.

Buttermilk Brownies
Adapted from Aki’s blog, Ideas in Food, that she co-authors with her husband Alex.

For the cocoa, I used Hershey’s Special Dark. For the chips, I used chunks of Bakers semi-sweet, semi-sweet chips, and milk chocolate chips. I used vinegar-laced milk in place of buttermilk.

About her choice of oat flour, Aki says (because I asked her in an email): “I generally use a fine oat flour and the resulting brownies manage to be both chewy and cakey, in the best possible way. I also like the fact that it makes them whole grain, adding some fiber to slow digestion, and that everyone who comes to visit can eat them because they are also gluten free.”

To make my oat flour, I simply whirled a scant cup of rolled oats in the blender (grind it as finely as you can), and then measured out the amount I needed.

10 tablespoons butter
1¼ cup sugar
¾ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk  or sour milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup oat flour
1 cup chocolate pieces

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and let cook until golden brown. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Beat in the eggs. Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Beat in the oat flour until satiny and smooth. The mixture will be thick and black, like molasses. Stir in the chocolate pieces, reserving a few to sprinkle over the batter once it’s in the pan, if you wish.

Pour the batter into a greased square pan and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes. The center should be puffed but a little wobbly to the touch, and the brownies should be just beginning to pull away from the pan’s edges.

This same time, years previous: Korean beef, the quotidian (6.22.15), in recovery, three things, weigh in, please, cilantro beet salad, driving lesson.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

cherry picking

A few weeks ago, I put my name on the call list for sweet cherries at our local orchard. And then, bit by bit, the sour cherries from our own trees started ripening. My older daughter picked them every couple days and I spent hours in the kitchen pitting the (occasionally) wormy bits of sour. We ended up squirreling away a fair amount. Not a lot, but enough, probably. Maybe we didn’t need to bother with sweet cherries after all? 

But then mid morning on Saturday, we got the call from the orchard: The cherries are ready. Come any time. So we dutifully grabbed containers—not too many so I wouldn’t be tempted to overdo it—and zipped over the back roads to the orchard.


The farmer greeted us. “Want to jump on that picker and I’ll lift you up into the tree?”

We hopped on and up up up we went, the branches, heavy with cherries, hitting us in the face and legs.


The cherries were enormous and perfect and juicy. For nearly 30 minutes, we picked without ever moving from that spot, only stopping when every single container was full.


At one point my son, who, in his cherry-picking enthusiasm, chattered non-stop, shouted, “I got a clunch!” and we burst out laughing. A clunch, we decided, was the wordchild of cluster and bunch



Back home, my husband and older daughter pitted away the rest of the afternoon while I scurried around filling jars (7 quarts) and freezer boxes (9 quarts), and making a sweet cherry pie and a batch of roasted cherry vanilla and chocolate ice cream.



Yummy, yum-yum.

(And hip-hip-hip,
Because now we're all done.)

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.20.16), walking through water, refried beans, orange cranberry scones, sour cherry crostatas.

Monday, June 19, 2017

the quotidian (6.19.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Every day, my lunch: this, plus Swiss chard and chickpeas.


San Fransisco Diner classic: Joe's Special.


I wonder how the chicken is feeling...


Oh dear, the weather's all gone.


Assessing the damage.


Impressionable.


Picked over and rearranged: making them last.



Storytime! 

This same time, years previous: smart hostessing, sinking in, dobby and luna, magic custard cake, the quotidian (6.19.12), Kate's enchiladas, cabbage apple slaw with buttered pecans, freezing spinach.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Puff!

Yesterday afternoon I got an email from my brother alerting me to an impromptu concert at the local university that evening. Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, was on the board of an organization that happened to be meeting at the university and would be giving a free concert that evening.

I grew up listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary records. I’ve Got a Hammer, The Great Mandala, Light One Candle, Blowin’ in the Wind, Lemon Tree, Day Is Done, and of course, Puff The Magic Dragon—these were the songs of my childhood. Plus, one of our records, Peter, Paul, and Mary In Concert, had PaulTalk. Our old-fashioned version of books-on-tape, I listened to that record over and over. 

And then last night, an elfin Peter, his shiny bald head ringed with white, walked up to the mic and started singing This Little Light of Mine. For the next hour (or was it two?) he sang new songs and old, interspersed with winding stories about his work, bringing together Democrats and Republicans. It’s a fabricated divide, he said, and so he travels around the country, getting people from opposite sides to talk, and sing, together. When we sing, he said, our masks come down and our emotions rise to the surface, and that is what keeps him going.

When it was time for Puff, The Magic Dragon, Peter invited anyone, but especially children, who wanted to sing with him to come to the front. And my younger son went.


Photo credit: Andrew Strack, Eastern Mennonite University 

Partway through the song, Peter had us sing the chorus on repeat while he took turns holding the mic in front of different people. The mic thrust in front of his face, my boy sang his little heart out.





Photo credit: Mark Sawin

And that’s how it came to be that my son had his very first solo with Peter, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, imagine that.

Afterwards, Peter signed my son’s cast—Peter Yarrow, Peace and Love (I guess we’ll have to ask the cast-removal technician to cut out that little square, for posterity’s sake)—and kissed and hugged all of us in turn.


Photo Credit: Andrew Strack, Eastern Mennonite University 

'Twas a puff of magic, that evening.

PS. As you can tell from all the photo credits, I left my camera at home that evening, GAH. Thankfully, a bunch of friends came to our rescue, sending me even more photos than I could use here.

This same time, years previous: language study, a dare, when I sat down, naps and mowers, old-fashioned vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

a new pie basket

Every now and then I get emails asking me to review stuff. Usually I ignore them, but sometimes, if I get a follow-up email, I respond with a polite (curt?) no thanks. A creative outlet is my only blog agenda. I have no desire to muddy the waters with commercial clutter.* Besides, who needs more stuff anyway? (Once a company sent me a collection of coconut oil body products—lotions and lip balm and such—basically just coconut oil with extracts added. I never even bothered to open the jars.)

But once in a while, the vendor’s query is a little more personal, like the one I got a number of weeks ago from an Amish basket company.

My response was candid. “You may send me baskets, if you wish, but I very rarely promote anything on my blog."

The rep wrote back right away. “I'd love to do that! What is the best mailing address to send the baskets to?”

So I gave her my address, and then added, “And just to be clear: I make no promises about sharing on the blog...”

A few weeks later, a large box arrived. My expectations were low. Baskets are a dime a dozen, and my husband doesn't approve of my basket-collecting propensities. Probably, this one would go straight to the thrift store.

I opened the box, peered in, and froze: A pie basket? I’ve always wanted a pie basket!


Pie transport is such a headache. I’ve seen the plastic carriers, but ... plastic, meh. I usually end up sticking the pie in a too-big basket and then tucking towels around it to prevent it from slipping. How did these people know exactly what I wanted??


Cackling with glee, I yanked the basket from the box and examined it from all angles. A solid bottom! Thickly-woven sides! A wooden lid! Removeable (washable!) cloth lining! Leather handles! And inside, the best part: a pie stand on legs!




One pie goes in the bottom of the basket, then the wooden stand, and then another pie.

This was a two-pie carrier.  I was completely over the moon.

Later, I jumped on the website to look at their selection. The baskets are nice, and clearly well-made, but none of them struck my fancy...except for that pie basket (they even have a triple-decker pie basket!). Either someone knew enough about me to think the pie basket would be a good fit, or they just got lucky (because look at me writing about a product!).


Speaking of getting lucky, I know I sure did.

*I am an Amazon affiliate, so I get a little money (about 20-30 dollars each month, on average) if/when I link to their products.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.16.14), street food, a glimpse, sourdough waffles, freezing strawberries, quirky.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

taking flight

When the children’s choir decided they’d be going to Peru for their trip this summer, my older son was bummed they'd only be staying two weeks. And then I said, “You know, you could just stay longer yourself, if you want.”

His mouth dropped. “Are you serious? You’d let me do that?”

“Sure,” I said. “If you’re going to spend all that money, you might as well make it count for something.”


Plans were made, money earned, a return ticket—five weeks after the rest of the choir returns home—purchased, and, as of this morning, our son is in Peru! He’ll spend the first couple weeks in Cusco with the choir (Machu Picchu is on the agenda, lucky kids), but after that, his plans are sketchy. There will be a couple weeks deep in the jungle building a farm (or something) with a North American family who has been living there for years. After that he’ll head to Lake Titicaca, then Nazca where he hopes to snow(sand)board on the dunes, and then back to Cusco where he’ll probably do a homestay with a local family.

Of course, all of this is subject to change, dependent on mood, weather, opportunity, connections, and finances.

"Just check in with us before you set out for a new location and then again when you arrive," I told him. Peru is huge and the bus rides long—a general sense of his whereabouts would be nice.



Some people think we're crazy for letting our 17-year-old loose in a foreign land all on his own, and it does feel a little bit like casting your child into the wilderness to see if he can survive. Like one of those go-kill-a-bear-and-prove-you’re-a-man tests. But I’m not really worried about him. (Okay, so I am a little worried….) Mostly, though, I’m just (outrageously) excited to hear his stories.

For a few days there, I was filled to the brim with sadness. It felt like if I made any sudden movement, the tears would slosh out of my eyes. For nearly two decades we’ve been building a family and now begins the leaving.

 NOT TO BE DRAMATIC OR ANYTHING.

I wouldn’t want this any differently, of course. Children are meant to leave. I want them to leave. But why is it that, just at the moment they turn into interesting, useful, witty, enjoyable people, they just up and go? I haven’t even fully recovered from the exhaustion of the early years, and bam, it’s over. How cruel.

Oh, and guess what. All those cliches—you blink and it’s over, time flies—are true. How annoying is that? (They are also complete bull because those were some excruciatingly slow years, but still…)



At the send off, I got to talking with one of the other parents. “I just hope he doesn’t do anything stupid,” I said, swiping at my eyes under my sunglasses.

“He has a good head on his shoulders," the dad said. "He’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know. He can be pretty stupid sometimes.”

“Aren't we all?” He laughed, and then added. “I bet if he does something stupid, he’ll make the appropriate adjustments pretty quick.”

Here’s to hoping!



Our son Skyped us from the airport last night. “The wi-fi here is super fast so I had to use it,” he explained.

My husband and I sat side-by-side, hungry for news and stories (of which there were disappointingly few—just a bunch of goofy, up-close faces and blurry shots of kids milling around).

Then this morning, an email: “Hey! Just arrived in Lima. Got to sit in the very last seat that didn't lean back. It was great.”


And he's off!

This same time, years previous: spinach dip, the business of belonging, Greek cucumber and tomato salad, sheet shortcake, saucy cilantro, brown butter noodles with ham.

Monday, June 12, 2017

the quotidian (6.12.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Pupusas!


These days, the chickens eat well.


And so do I.


What I make when I need a bread fix, and quick.


Fruit murderer.


First river outing.


A surprise for the kids.


Boing.


Princess Buttercup.


At a friend's house: my new spot.


Extravagant, a hostess gift. 

This same time, years previous: mud cake, the quotidian (6.10.13), the smartest thing I did, the quotidian (6.11.12), stuff, garbled, mint tea concentrate, concerning cilantro, strawberry shortcake.