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a slip of season

August 10th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Well, hello August.

I can’t say I’m thrilled to see August because it’s sort of reminding me of all the summer that’s now past and how little I’ve been able to enjoy  a most fleeting time. I can count on one hand the number of farmers market trips I’ve made. Just yesterday I shook out my swimsuit from the drawer where it’s been buried and ignored. The sun goes down quicker, and with a more resigned feeling than just a few weeks ago. People are talking about returning to school. Somehow, August just feels different; it feels like a slow, warm denouement, like the last dance of a spirited, eloquent party full of flushed faces and sighs of ‘The next one will be just as much fun.’

But at the same time, August is abundance. Corn is everywhere. And the heat of July is making my tomato plants nearly burst with crimson globes of homegrown tomato glory. Like this…. in one day.

Yes, that’s one day of harvest. But those tomatoes need barely a thing on them save a dash of good sea salt and a few grinds of pepper to make their way eagerly to my mouth. My Rutgers and Bonny’s Guy plants are nearly 5 feet tall, and still loaded with potential. There are peppers galore hanging from the seven pepper plants and I am eagerly awaiting the ripening of the mysterious Italian Heirloom peppers of which I discovered late in the Spring. Four plants, fully adorned with long and cylindrical deep green peppers hold a bounty and so much more. I eye them, thinking of stuffing, or sauteing or simply slicing on a salad. I love the anticipation held within the tiny patch out my window.

The rain has been copious in Minnesota, and the resulting humidity oppressive, but what the rain has done is unavoidable. My tiny Japanese lilac bushes, which faded so fast after an untimely Mother’s Day frost, sprung back into a lush fragrant bloom in mid-July, bringing a welcome surprise amidst the waves of high summer heat. The Delphinium is on a second bloom too, and the yard has stayed a rich verdant green. I even find humor in the huge weed that’s formed in our neglected fire pit, it’s long stems sneaking up and over the walls, potentially snagging unsuspecting varmints. The toad population in my garden is copious. Mike even found a small frog clinging to our sunroom window one evening. Just about the same time, we discovered a tiny amphibian clinging to a baking pan in the midst of the kitchen at work. It was a moment of surprise, and likely shock for the poor little green creature, which I quickly captured and took outside to release in the grass. His legs were too miniscule anyway, as luck would have it.

This past week has been very simple around the house. The Teen is off an the adventure of his young lifetime, away in the mountains of West Virginia spreading his faith and employing his helping hands. He returns to our fold this weekend, and I’ve missed his smile. Mike and I have enjoyed some much-needed quiet time, and a reprieve from chauffeur duties. My schedule, and the last of the July heat has kept the cooking to a minimum. Good bread, some cheese and those wonderful tomatoes have really been all I crave anyway.

I did turn on the oven for one short burst of creativity when I came across this Chipotle Lime Roasted Peanut recipe on Susan’s site. I’ve been indulging in this delicious smoothie , utilizing the frozen blueberries from my yearly berry picking adventure, and upon seeing her quick and simple method for this spicy snack, I jumped into action. One food item that we always keep on hand for snacking is nuts. Our favorite is almonds, with pistachios and peanuts coming in close behind. I took Susan’s recipe one step further, using all three nuts when I made my version.

With the first nibble, I was hooked. The nuts aren’t spicy right away, but a bit of heat builds up in the back of your mouth as you crunch away, and a slight salty tang of  lime tangoes a little over your tongue. They’re utterly addictive. It’s a good thing I needed to run out to work soon after fixing up a batch of them, or I might have poured myself a cold drink, taken a book out to the patio along with a bowl of these nuts and settled in to satisfied munching. It would be nice of me to save some for Mike, don’t you think?

some days just require improvising

August 1st, 2010 | 4 Comments »

As I write this, my boy is somewhere on the road between our home and the Southeastern USA, traveling across four states with his student leadership group from our church for a week-long missions trip to an impoverished area in the southern part of West Virginia. The road trip will take two days before they arrive at their destination.

My boy has been away before, so this is nothing new, this being gone for a week at a time. He’s been spending part of the past 8 summers away, and he always enjoys it. He has to; he was never given the luxury of having a choice in the matter. Being an only child, he was pushed away from my side by necessity. I couldn’t hover, I couldn’t at all. He had to learn to play by himself, read by himself, entertain himself and sleep by himself. And he didn’t have the advantage of siblings to soften any landing that occurred in his life. He was the baby bird on the limb, Mama coaxing him out of the nest at a tender young age and for the most part, he’s done well with those landings. He’s comfortable being away from me, and this is a good thing. Because I know that when he’s ready to fly and really spreads his wings, that he will soar mightily. And I am thrilled and excited to see where this missions trip will take him, in his walk with his Faith, and in his life. He’s had it good, this boy of mine. A dose of reality that life isn’t always kind, that homes aren’t always luxurious and comfortable and that a meager way of life happens to even the kindest people. We all need that perspective shift sometimes to keep us grounded and real.

When I dropped him off with his group and drove off, I expected some jubilation. I expected a slight sigh of relief for a quiet house and no chauffeur duties in the week ahead, meals planned for Mike and I and no one texting me to bring home ice cream as I am getting off work. What I got was something completely unexpected. I was wracked with worry. Because for now, until the team lands at their final destination, I have no clue what’s happening and I have to put an enormous amount of faith in the process. He is in good hands, the team leaders are amazing adults, with soft hearts and strong spirits. He will be safe with them. But there is a long, long and open road that they are on, one that isn’t always so friendly. Or protective. Two vans, one large trailer, and a laughing, wonderful group of incredible young men and women all in high spirits for the adventure that awaits. The thought of anything disastrous happening to them haunts me. And surprises me too. I didn’t expect this feeling, but I don’t doubt it’s validity. That’s my boy. It’s a piece of my heart on that road between here and the South. If I wasn’t worried just a little, that in itself would be worrisome. So I trust, and I remember to breathe. And to pray for them all. Especially those behind the wheel.

And so the expected excitement of sending him off and a week with my spouse has been replaced with this Mama’s heart, and a need to comfort myself. With an abundance of fresh blueberries on hand, a warm muffin seemed perfect. But like this unexpected shift in my day, my favorite recipe was lacking in one very important ingredient and for a moment I actually felt like I had no energy to punt and see what happened. Most of my recipes are sort of like Hail Mary passes, or the punt that will win the game. I close my eyes, do what needs to get done and hope for the best. It’s like craving lemonade when faced with oranges, or planning the trip of a lifetime only to get diverted to a different destination.

Or like this particular morning, wanting bran muffins with fresh blueberries, and ending up with something more like oatmeal. It’s reaching for dried cherries to add some flavor, and dumping what was left of some crushed almonds into the batter to use them up. It meant adding some yogurt to regular milk to create a buttermilk-like tang. More importantly, it meant drowning out the recurring voice in my head that left me lost and empty. The task of making a simple muffin, with necessary improvising, took away the worry. And the result was both peace of mind, with a side of oh-so-very-delicious.

Kate’s Blueberry Bran Muffins

Heat oven to 425°. Prepare muffins tins with cooking spray, or liners.

Mix together in a large bowl:

1-1/2 c. All Bran Cereal
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. maple syrup

Allow mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes, until softened.

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

3/4 c. unbleached AP flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt

When bran mixture is soft, gently stir in the flour mixture only until just incorporated. At this point, add a cup of frozen blueberries and gently fold them in. Scoop into prepared muffin pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to wire cooling rack.

KATE’S NOTES: If you don’t have All Bran cereal on hand, you can use all oatmeal in the first step. Another option to use would be a commercial multi-grain hot cereal mix like Bobs Red Mill 7-Grain or 10-Grain for the All-Bran. I’ve done this both ways and the results are always delicious. The ground flaxseed is my addition. Leave it out if you don’t have it on hand. And you can use all white flour, or all wheat flour for these if you wish.

To sub for buttermilk, you can use the lemon juice/vinegar option (1 t. either juice or vinegar per 1 c. liquid, stir together then allow to sit for 10 minutes to curdle) or you can mix about 1/3 c. of plain or vanilla yogurt into 1-1/2 c. of plain milk, or even soy milk. I use soy milk, and love how the added yogurt gives it some extra moisture.

Some dried fruit is a nice addition to these; you can use apricots, cherries, figs, dates or prunes. Mince about a 1/2 c. of your preferred fruit and add it to the cereal mixture in the first step. The soaking in buttermilk softens it greatly, and it almost melts in the oven leaving tiny, tangy sweet pockets in your muffins. And adding in 1/3 to 1/2 c. of your choice of chopped nuts also makes for a fine addition.