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wait…. another cake?

October 28th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

Yes. Another cake. Don’t be surprised if I share even more cake with you over time, as I do love a good moist and tender cake.

And I’m partial to a Bundt cake, for nostalgia reasons. It’s pretty easy to work with, that shape. You get a nice substantial cake that is easy to slice and portion out and with the wealth of lovely artistic bundt pans available, you can make something that looks masterful with nary a hint of extra effort.

And besides, bundt cakes make me think of my Mom. And she would have loved this Nutmeg Cake.

Nutmeg Cake. Not Spice Cake, although that would be appropriate, but no, the predominant flavor of this cake is Nutmeg, also known as Myristica fragrans, a spice that elicited so much adoration and excitement that bloody wars were executed over it to protect it’s production, and Emperor Henry VI had the streets of Rome fumigated with it during his coronation. In the 14th Century, a half a kilogram of nutmeg cost as much as three sheep, or one cow. The Nutmeg tree belongs to the Evergreen family, and as everyone knows, it consists of not one but two spices, as the feathery outer layer is ground up for Mace, while the seed itself is the Nutmeg.

The fruit is light yellow with red and green markings, resembling an apricot or a large plum. As the fruit matures, the outer fleshy covering (which is candied or pickled as snacks in Malaysia) bursts to reveal the seed. The seed is covered with red membranes called an aril, the mace portion of the nutmeg. The nut is then dried for up to 2 months until the inner nut rattles inside the shell. It is then shelled to reveal the valuable egg-shaped nutmeat which is the edible nutmeg. Second-rate nuts are pressed for the oil, which is used in perfumes and in the food industry.

Nutmeg is easily ground from it’s whole form, using a microplane, and purists argue that this is the best and only way in which it should be used. Pre-ground Nutmeg can easily lose it’s flavor, and when you need only a small dose of the spice, grating it fresh is simple; a few passes over the microplane and you’re done. But this recipe calls for 5 teaspoons of Nutmeg. I’d be standing with that microplane in hand for an eternity if I tried to freshly grate all that spice. And for me, Penzey’s West Indies Ground Nutmeg is perfect to keep on hand.

I came across this recipe in a recent issue of Saveur magazine and immediately snipped it out. Although I do know that Nutmeg is not a universally liked spice, for me it’s been a favorite since I was a kid, sprinkling my applesauce with cinnamon and nutmeg. I love it’s quick warm bite, the flick of flavor on my tongue that resonates around.

And it isn’t just for desserts, really. A few pinches of fresh ground nutmeg makes a wonderful addition to any dish with squash in it. It’s necessary for Spaetzle and can elevate a simple cream sauce on pasta to ultra-gastronomic levels. Add a dash of nutmeg to a fruit crisp, sprinkle it in smoothies, grate some on top of your oatmeal or other hot cereal (especially if you add blueberries- there is something so delightful about blueberries and nutmeg together) and of course, with cinnamon, cloves and allspice you get none other than perfect pumpkin pie flavor.

 

This cake made two appearances in my life in the exact same week. Two cakes, for two occasions. The first one was just the old standard “I Found A Recipe That I Can’t Wait To Try” deal, and the fact that it turned out so incredibly moist and oh so tender, and it was so darn easy to make that I quickly hit ‘Repeat’ and made another one for a ladies only gathering at our lake home. To be able to take a cake recipe and feed it to eight discriminating palates knowing that every one of them would adore it is a big feather in my cap. I loved watching their faces as they took that first bite. These ladies know their food.

And I know my nutmeg.  So tell me …. do YOU like nutmeg??

 

Nutmeg Cake

3 cups flour
5 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a standard bundt pan with cooking spray. You can also use a 9×13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the dry mixture. With a pastry blender (or two forks, or for a load of fun, your hands) cut the butter in to the flour mixture until it’s about the size of peas or smaller. Add the brown sugar and walnuts (if using) and blend with a fork.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, milk and eggs until very creamy. Add to the flour/butter mixture and gently fold together with a rubber spatula, carefully scraping the bottom of the bowl, until the batter is smooth and completely blended. It will be fairly thick. Pour batter into prepared pan. Run a knife through the batter to remove any air pockets, or you can gently drop the pan on the counter a few times for the same result.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes for a bundt pan, 25-35 for a 9×13. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes in the pan (if using a bundt pan) then run a knife around the edges to loosen and turn over on to a plate.

This cake is phenomenal when served warm.

 

original recipe from Saveur magazine, here with modifications.

battling sleep

October 25th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There is no moment darker than the middle of the night, when some tiny slip of interference inserts itself through my consciousness and rouses me from a deep restful sleep. The worst part about most of these moments is that there is nothing happening outside the cocoon of my bed that needs my attention.

But there I lay, awake yet not awake. I’m exhausted and unable to fall back asleep, struggling to find the off switch to a high powered mind that never seems to want to stop moving. My thoughts don’t awaken me, but the moment my conscious mind senses ‘Awake’, the process begins to spin, dance and swirl. I’m on some weird lifetime sleep deprivation program, it seems. And there is no relief. The word ‘Insomnia’ hovers over me daily. But I adjust, surprisingly. My body has learned to make it through most any day, with or without the sleep it needs. I push through fatigue and churn out the energy needed, and sometimes, dinner is barely over and I know it will be one of those nights there I collapse in to bed far earlier than normal, the deprivation biting at my heels. There is only so much one can handle before total collapse. Blessedly, those nights are long and deep with good sleep and I awaken refreshed. I have no idea what it’s like to have that good sleep, night after night, to have the energy every single day that I possess after those marathon sleeps. What I could accomplish, were that the case.

Those moments, awake with myself in the night, aren’t all bitter and salt, forming a bad taste in my mouth. There is quiet, a subtle peace that comes in the midst of everyone else’s sleep, where I feel like I am the one being awake in a world unconscious. I can’t count the nights I’ve risen to stand at the bathroom window, listening to the owls outside, hooting for territory and mice, passing silently on feathery wings through the trees. When it’s intolerable, the awake state at 3:00am, I’ve risen to avoid the endless toss and turn, and in peace have sat in the darkness, enjoying a few moments with myself. I can open my computer and pour out my mind and release the thoughts that churn inside and then, finally, make my way back to bed, the warmth of my spouse and a sleepy cat or two and drift off. Thankfully those days are gone, and the conscious moments past midnight now are not so intense. Still, they come and I awake and I wonder what drew me from sleep so I listen to the house around me, the cats snoring, my husband breathing deep and peacefully. This is my life, whether it’s a imperfect slice, here in the pre-dawn utter darkness, or a moment of daytime that takes my breath away. This is what I have, and it’s me and a part of me, without fail. I manage to make it through, daily, on energy that I find from places I don’t know exist. And when the deprivation becomes too much and I can barely make it through dinner, I climb the stairs at far too early an hour and collapse, shutting the door behind me, drawing the quilt over my shoulders and settling, with a deep sigh, into the rare night of uninterrupted sleep.

I marvel at the energy I can grasp from these nights, incapable of realizing just how far I might go, how deep I could reach within me to release what I know is there, if only I had endless and consistent sleep.

It’s Tuesday. And you know that means Just Write is back.
Check out The Extraordinary Ordinary for more posts.

tying up the heart songs

October 18th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I look around the table at the women gathered there and I’m caught, just a bit, by the warmth and authenticity sitting with me. I feel blessed, and caught up in the moment of our conversations, of life and marriage, parenting and food and everything in between.

It’s chilly, and clear, but the wind is gusting hard against the old patio doors, making them rattle and throb in the gale. It is October, after all, and no one came here expecting to sunbathe and swim. We knew we’d find bare trees and dry brown grass, and everyone brought slippers or warm socks. Several people came with thick blankets to help ward off the chill of an October night.

But at this moment, no one is thinking about the cold hard wind outside. Because when you gather eight women who are all passionate about food, amazing things happen and we lay it out before us, gazing at the repast with gleaming eyes, exclaiming over the sight. We pour wine in to glass jars and pull up our chairs. Fragrant soup simmers and there is never a break in the conversation as we segue from one topic to the next, easily, like we’ve done this all our lives. Several of us have only met, just today and the moment the cabin door opened and the laughter swept in from the yard. But we know each other, as old friends, regardless of how much face time we’ve had. It’s inherent, this tribe. We have a bond and we just know, in our hearts that we belong here.

Outside the cold bright day turns to a brisk and clear night. There is warmth inside those rattling glass doors that the chilly Autumn night can’t chase away. We sit over homemade salsa and tortilla chips, freshly made bacon jam with crackers and toasted bread, deeply flavored roasted nuts. The promise of warm soup hangs in the air, and there is more bread, delicious and healthy salads and the conversation that feeds us, on and on, an endless succession of nurturing topics, filled with appetizing laughter.

There is more wine poured, glass jars clink on the table and plates come out. Bowls are set near the stove and a ladle dipped in to the pot, drawing forth a steaming amount to smell, while quiet smiles play across faces rich with anticipation. There is no one in this room who isn’t wholly in love with food, passionate about it in every way; who loves to feed others, who lives to share the bounty. They are kindred, these women, these beings that I love. There is a depth to the emotion that runs further than I could have imagined. Food sustains them, and they sustain others with it, through emotions, and heart songs and old glass jars. Through fragrant bread studded with herbs, through kicky salsa that dances on your tongue. Beyond the crackers, and the tortilla chips, there isn’t a processed item in sight. We love our food in exactly the way it should be; freshly and lovingly made.

The darkness outside is impenetrable now, and the dishes are cleared and washed. We slowly move to the sofa, the comfy chairs. Blankets are drawn over full tummies, feet pulled up and tucked under for warmth and yet the conversation never stops. No topic is exhausted or drained from our lips. Now there is dessert, and coffee to give us a brisk resurgence, but soon the home brewed beer is brought out and we taste, slowly sipping, loving the results. It’s close to midnight before we admit defeat and stumble sleepily, happily and with stuffed tummies and hearts, in to our beds.

The morning is more clear sunshine and sustained winds, a humming furnace and sleepy smiles. “I slept like a rock.” resounds from every mouth that appears, eyes relaxed and dreamy, arms wrapped tight in a cocoon of contentment. The coffee pot bubbles and we slip easily into conversation, watching out the windows to a morning rising bright and clear over the lake outside. Breakfast, again, is a dizzy array of fresh baked quick breads, creamy scrambled eggs dredged through with colorful vegetables, the ripest and juiciest pears and apples plucked fresh from the trees only days ago. We’re quieter, more relaxed. We smile and need no reason. We just are; in the moment, right here with our tribe, right where we need to be.

With a sigh, we rise and clean and organize and pack and hug and hug and hug again and laugh and wander across the crunchy leaves to the waiting cars, calling out, again, a goodbye, a thank you, smiles so wide that it seems to split our faces right in two. I close the door against the battering winds and face the empty cabin, the incredible array of foods they’ve left for me to enjoy. My heart is full, the song played out with a few last fading notes to a silence that feels rich, yet forlorn.

They’ll be back again. This much I know.


Please visit —–> The Extraordinary Ordinary
It’s Week Six of Just Write Tuesdays.

vegetables outside the box

October 17th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I spent a significant amount of time this past summer wandering up and down the aisles of our local farmers markets, as many, many people do. But I don’t venture in to the larger markets in Minneapolis or St Paul, instead preferring to go to the small satellite ones in the suburbs. I can always find what I needed, and as was the case this past year, I found a whole lot more than I ever anticipated.

Each summer for the last 5 years it seems some type of theme arises from a particular food I discover and experiment with; it might be a food type, such as the summer of 2007 when I learned a great deal about cooking with whole grains like quinoa, millet, bulgur and a multitude of colorful rice varieties. Or it might be a particular food, like in 2008 when I took the humble burger in different directions, and 2009 found me falling in love with beets and getting my fill of learning about those. In 2010, what I experimented with was a killer job. Cooking went by the wayside last year, but this summer, with a better schedule and actual time off during the week, trips to the Farmers Market were a must, and in those weekly visits, I came across a multitude of vegetables that I’d never tried or even considered prior to this past June.

And what was different about this year was the increase in the need for vegetable based meals, since we walked away from meat consumption in May and never looked back. So stretching the imagination and reaching for foods that were unfamiliar was going to have to stick. I needed to expand my palate, and this was the perfect spot to do so.

If I could pinpoint one item that I really learned a great deal about this year it would be Greens. Kale and chard crossed our plates and made appearances in our kitchen nearly every week. Enormous bunches of chard could be purchased from the market for a dollar a piece and easily could feed us for 2 meals or more, depending on what I did with it. I discovered the joys of making Chard Chips, and fell in love with a simple chard side dish, sauteed with a few cloves of garlic and simmered gently to bring out it’s deeply rich and slightly sweet flavor. I love Rainbow Chard for it’s colorful stems.

Then, in one visit to the market in Maplewood, I came across a giant bunch of greens on a farmers table and asked curiously “What is this?”

“That’s Sweet Potato Leaves.” She said, smiling widely. “They’re like spinach, only a little sweeter.”

Here was yet another enormous bunch of greens, and for a dollar as well. What did I have to lose? I handed over a buck and placed the bunch in my sack and as I turned away, the farmer said with a smile “Those are going to become your favorite green!!” To which I simply smiled and said ‘Thank you!’

She was 100% correct. I stripped the leaves that evening and sauteed them for dinner and with the first bite, I was raving over how tender and amazing they tasted and couldn’t wait to return the following week for more. Also known as Kamote, or Camote leaves, and as other dark leafy greens they are loaded with vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium, making them a good choice for healthy eating. Each week I could, I returned to that market, and that farmer and scooped up large bunches of Sweet Potato leaves. While many cultures also eat the stems, I consumed only the leaves, tossing the stems in the garden to compost. Imagine my surprise when I noticed after a few weeks that those stems had taken root and were growing new leaves. I managed to get a small crop of my own Sweet Potato leaves from my garden before the first frost in September. Now that’s a nice bonus.

I’ve been on the fence with Eggplant for a while now, fighting back and forth with it, hoping to fall in love even when I fall on my face, but for some reason I keep trying and I’m really glad as I have discovered more ways this summer to enjoy Eggplant. I came across Rosa Bianca eggplants too, and was immediately drawn to their unique colors.

But I also came across a completely new (to me) eggplant; a tiny orange one with grooved sides that looked a lot like a mini pumpkin.

The farmer told me that they could be roasted like regular eggplant. What she didn’t tell me, and what I discovered a bit too late was that this little orange variety is very bitter and is considered a delicacy in SE Asian cuisine. One bite and I had to admit that I’d found a vegetable I couldn’t eat.

A few more unique vegetables crossed my doorstep this summer, due to a relationship with Ocean Mist Farms. I was contacted by a representative of Ocean Mist back in July and asked if I was interested in some fresh Fennel to try. While Fennel isn’t really anything new, it was not a vegetable I’d done much with and while I did like it, the cost had always been prohibitive. I agreed to the Fennel they would send, and soon a case of it arrived at my house, holding six large, aromatic and superbly fresh bulbs. We had a wonderful time enjoying the light anise flavor, roasting them with potatoes and carrots. Fennel becomes so nicely sweet when roasted. I also added fennel to a slaw salad I made, loving it’s crisp texture and added taste to a favorite summery dish.

Recently, Ocean Mist contacted me again, offering to send me a vegetable I’d never even heard of: Cardones. Curiosity won me over, and I accepted. I had no idea what I was going to receive.

Cardones, or Cardoons, are very popular in Italy, come from the Thistle family and are considered a distant cousin of the Artichoke. They look like mutant celery, but they cannot be eaten raw. The internal part of the plant has slim silvery gray leaves that look like sage. And they are HUGE. Check out those stalks!!!

This was nothing like I’d known before; and I was initially at a loss as to what to do. After some research online, I decided to make a creamy cardone soup out of one of the bunches. They require a long simmering time, and mixed with onion and leek, it offered a warm and fragrant scent to a chilly evening. The finished soup was smooth, mild and creamy, and as we discovered, tasted amazing with some leftover wild rice pilaf stirred in to it.

The next two stalks I roasted, and this method was the best tasting. I tossed the slices with a bit of olive oil and a splash of an asiago caesar salad dressing I had on hand and after a nice long turn in a 425° oven, they were tender and flavorful enough to toss with pasta. The experience with Cardones was really interesting; I kept expecting celery flavor, but instead got something so unusual. It was like artichokes but richer. Cardones are similar to Artichokes in that they will discolor when cut apart, and should be soaked in acidulated water to prevent brown spots from forming. I did discover too, that they will change color even after cooking, and the roasted pieces I had in the refrigerator turned a strange shade of greenish gray after a day. The taste does not change though, even when they look just a bit unappetizing. I’m sure they have a lot more use in the kitchen, and maybe I’ll come across them again so I can experiment more.

WHAT NEW VEGETABLES ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT?
ARE THERE VEGETABLES YOU EAT NOW THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE? 

DISCLAIMER:
Ocean Mist Farms provided me with both the case of Fennel and the Cardones free of charge.
I have no obligation to post any feedback or information on them, and all opinions are my own. 

dark dark molasses cake

October 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There’s something quite elegant about a dark, almost black molasses cake.

It’s a hallmark of Fall too, even though really, it’s good any time of year. But the cinnamon and ginger have the warm and tranquil feel of a blazing fire, or a maple tree in full color. They speak their spice words and the ones we hear the loudest is ‘Autumn’. Cooler weather means baking. A warm oven is the right means to chase the chill away, and a dark rich molasses cake sits on the counter, awaiting the moment when the dishes are done, the light is gone and the dessert plates come out, forks clinking in anticipation.

Call it gingerbread, call it molasses cake. It’s all the same in my head. And it’s a taste I’ve loved for an eternity, it seems. There is something about that flavor the moment that it lands in your mouth. It’s soothing, again; another impression that tells me of a passing season. A cake to usher in sweatshirt weather, and extra blankets on the bed. We all love these dark and inviting cakes, whether with a scoop of ice cream on top, or yogurt.

I’m not a recipe loyal cook. Ok, I recant; I can be a recipe loyal cook until I see something that I think would be even more amazing and then I try the new option and the old standby gets tossed aside. I’m easy like that. I like to experiment. I like to travel new gustatory paths and explore new tastes. This particular molasses cake has LOADS of molasses- a full 1-1/2 cups. And it strongly suggests you use blackstrap molasses to make it the richest, darkest most lush molasses cake of all time. I didn’t have blackstrap on hand. In fact, I’ve never bought blackstrap molasses. I might. Just to try this cake again in it’s original form, because, to this molasses cake crazy girl, this recipe was one that might never get replaced. It’s that good.

Coming from the kitchn, one can expect a recipe of extraordinary taste. I’ve been a bit hooked on what Faith Durand and Sara Kate Gillingham put forth, finding a great deal of recipes that stretch the limits of normal food items, a wide range of delicious and healthy vegetarian dishes that don’t read like a 1990′s restaurant menu and plenty of kitchen design upgrades that make even the most even-keeled, happy in her place person swoon in delight. And there’s never been a crashing dud in any of the recipes I’ve been bold enough to try. You need to really like your food to love what these ladies do with it, and I appreciate a place that wears like an old friend, a comfortable trustworthy feeling that brings a smile, a lightness to your heart. With so many slap-dash recipe sites out there, finding a trustworthy one that works is a gem.

So…. back to this cake. Did you think I’d forgotten?


I would never forget to share such a treat with you. Are you a cake and ice cream fanatic? Because this works beautifully with vanilla, or mix it up a bit and go for pumpkin ice cream, cinnamon or when it’s available, try eggnog ice cream for a big decadent kick. It also works to eat it with yogurt, the richer and more dense, the better. A few brandied cherries on top wouldn’t be bad, nor would a turn in a microwave to warm it slightly, after which you drizzle a thin stream of pure maple syrup over the top. And whipped cream! If that’s your thing, you’re in luck. This cake does it all. All the parameters of a good dessert.

And if dessert isn’t your thing exactly, try a piece of this with your morning coffee. You’re welcome.

Dark and Damp Molasses Cake

12 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 c. unsulphured dark or unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. fine salt
2 1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. cinnamon
2 t. espresso powder (optional)
1 t. vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. whole milk

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or grease a standard bundt cake pan.

Place the chunks of butter in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Pour in the molasses and whisk in the brown sugar and white sugar. Whisk as the butter melts. When the butter has melted and is completely liquid, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy, give it a final stir and turn off the heat. Set the pan aside to cool. (The molasses will look slightly separated from the melted fat; they won’t be smoothly combined.)

Use a clean dry whisk to combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and espresso powder in a large bowl. (The espresso powder is optional; it will lend one more dimension of flavor to your cake.)

Whisk the vanilla, eggs, and milk into the saucepan with the molasses and melted butter. When it is completely combined, pour this liquid slowly into the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine, making sure there are no lumps.

Pour the thick batter into the prepared springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 20 or 30 minutes, then run a thin, flexible knife around the inside of the pan to help the cakes edges release. Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on cooling rack.

 

recipe from the kitchn; for a delicious frosting to spread on top of this cake, follow the link here.

sunday

October 11th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

The glory days of Fall, Indian Summer in it’s finest moments is fading fast like the last car of a train bound far away, and it speaks with an urgency “Go out there! Enjoy this!” because we know soon enough, this too will feel like an afterthought.

I’m wearing a tank top and it’s October 9th and I think that this feeling is something I wish to burn in my memory to carry around in January, and again in those late and dark days of March where winter feels interminable and the thought of Spring is like a dream you can’t quite recall. It’s dusty and hot and I love it but the dryness tugs at my throat as the dirt rises against my wheels.

The continual thrum of rubber on the road is sometimes the only noise I hear, that is, until I hit the patch of leaves and crunch my way through. No patch sounds the same, feels the same or even looks alike; these piles of Autumn’s detritus. I could kick them, or run my bike tire over like today and every sound speaks of Fall, but is completely new. I could ride forever on a day like today, all halcyon and copper, flashes of yellow, red and gold whipping past me and the wind on my face. The road is pretty quiet, cars gone elsewhere to enjoy the sunshine and I ride alone, without loneliness. I can’t ever feel lonely outdoors. It’s alive and it’s vibrant and it’s stoic in it’s stand against the seasons, rarely faltering or shrinking back from the blazing heat nor the snow and rain. It’s admirable, really. We could take lots of notes from the stalwart life of a mighty Cottonwood.

My plan is working as the hum of my bike and clicking of the changing gears begins to churn the mass from my mind. I can let go of days, events, time and stress by letting loose in nature, and with each gear change, it’s like clicking open different parts of my skull to allow it all to pour out, freeing me to think straight again. I need to get myself out and away, putting behind me the Instagram days where I filter over the picture of my reality, making it softer, cleaner, or giving it a whole different feel in order to make it tolerable. It’s my coping mechanism when the world begins to disappoint and crush. But my favorite world, the one that never lets me down, is among the trees and leaves, on the waters edge watching a hundred geese make their smooth landings, the wind tickling the hair on my arms.

Ten miles have passed, nearly without effort and I am making my way home. I’m tired, sweaty now and a bit off kilter from this purge of last weeks life. It was a big week, with a lot of amazing happenings and even when it’s gone and over, there is still a residue behind, that little bit that requires some extra scraping to remove. I’m worn, feeling empty, but I’m elated too, ready for another go at it. The wind feels cold almost, against the sweat under my helmet. I stretch, feeling every muscle sing with the energy I’ve just poured through my limbs. I dream of the hot shower, clean clothes and relaxing afternoon ahead.

Visit The Extraordinary Ordinary for more of this week’s Just Write series.

a homegrown tomato

October 4th, 2011 | 7 Comments »

The stems and vines are withered, but the fruit holds on. Like the last of the season’s tomatoes, and peppers round as a globe just knew that this week of unseasonable warmth was coming and they’d have an excuse to reach their peak.

“The frost won’t get to me.” They reassure, holding tight to the vine of life. “We know what’s on it’s way. Be patient with us.” And like knowing, instinctively, that life just needs an outlet no matter if it’s alive in the flesh or in a plant, I wait, sitting back on my heels to watch, and to hope.

Because these vines have rewarded me profusely this year. And I am so grateful for their bounty. And with that, I will watch, I will water under the warmth of October sun and I will carefully trim the battered and split tops of the ripe tomato away to reveal the sweetness of sugared flesh underneath. A thin grind of fresh black pepper and my mouth tells me, without a doubt that I was right to practice patience.

But it tugs at me and I am tired. Tired of dirt and weeds, and of walking the compost bucket out to the garden again and again. I’m tired of watering and bugs and grasshoppers that leap up in front of me as I make my way to the yard and yet, I’m sad that I’m tired of this all because I can’t imagine anything better in life than a garden, lush with life in plant and animal, where sleepy cats lay beneath bush heavy with leafy shade and butterflies flit carelessly, chasing the bumblebee so thick with pollen. But it still tugs at me. It’s October. It’s time to shut down and to stop. It’s the cycle of seasons that’s ingrained over 47 years and I can’t stop it, even as Indian Summer blazes on my skin and burns it, tender and sharp like pins. The vines are withered, the plants are tired, but for as long as they hold on, for as much as they’ve given me this year with their endless bounty of beautifully colored orbs that taste of sunshine and wind, I can stop the relentless march inside me, the days towards winter light and darkness and let the last of nature play out in my yard.

Because I will miss those tomato days, I can do this, and care for them, as long as they’ll hang on. A week of unseasonable temps in the 80′s likely will be our swan song. I’ll harvest what I can, and return to the earth all that’s left; bury it under a layer of leaves to rest until next year. For more plantings, more herbs, more peppers round and fat, more tomatoes that taste like they grew in a sugar pot, more sighs of contentment.

A pan of these beauties, so carefully tended and raised just steps from my door roasts easily in a hot oven, collapsing on itself like a weary child, and releasing a luscious liquid, an elixir that sends its scent to the very tips of my kitchen. I scrape the sections in to a bowl, peeling back the wrinkled skin and the juice is whisked with the warm oil. There is manoush bread on the counter, and the house, finally, is empty for a few precious hours and I’m unable to ignore the growling belly that guides me to a brush, the tomato flavored oil and slices of bright yellow Golden Jubilee tomato. A handful of torn kale leaves are scattered on the top, along with the tiny thyme leaves stripped from their teeny little stems, and finally, rich Brie cheese.

Soon, under the heat of the oven once again, the transformation takes hold. I am entranced by the smell.


And at this point, with a warm wedge of perfect dinner in my hands, I think that every weed pulled and water droplet sprayed is worth the flavor on my tongue. Every bucket of compost walked to the garden, every carefully laid pile of mulch, every trimmed stalk and the extra ties to hold up plants sagging under their own weight, every cotton sheath laid tight and snug to ward off that first damaging frost…… everything I did, and continue to do now under the sun of October is worth the glory of homegrown.

I will miss this so much.

Please visit my dear friend Heather, and read all the links in this week’s installment of Just Write.

eggplant & chickpea curry

October 1st, 2011 | 4 Comments »

Truth:

I could be accused of purchasing eggplant simply to make this dish. Not that this is a bad thing.

Truth:

I have a wooden spoon permanently stained from turmeric.

Truth:

I may have, just a wee bit, tried to hide the remains of this dish in the back of the fridge where my husband can’t find it.

Admission:

I love curry.

The first time I ever tried any kind of curry flavored dish was in college when a roommate and I shared an amazing meal at an Ethiopian restaurant. She warned me that I would sweat curry the next day and she wasn’t kidding; the warmth that exuded from my skin was unreal. It was heady, and deep with the memory of the fragrant meal we’d consumed the night before and I would lift my arm to my nose repeatedly over the course of my morning to remind myself of the flavors. It’s no surprise that any type of curry dish, whether red or green or yellow, is at the top of my list in terms of my favorite taste. With or without coconut milk, whether searing hot with a heat that makes my heart beat just a bit faster and sweat bead at my eyebrows, or a mild gentle tease that touches my tongue, curry flavored dishes are tops.

Eggplant. Chickpeas. Red onions. Fresh curry powder whisked with a splash of oil and just a bit of dark brown sugar to aid in caramelization. A hot oven. And 30 minutes. That’s it. From that point, all you need is a fork.

Your house will smell truly amazing, and I’m telling you, it will be darn right difficult to resist eating the roasted curried chickpeas right off the baking sheet when it’s all done. They become dense and crispy, especially if you take a few moments after you’ve drained them to spread them out and pat them dry with a paper towel, and I’m sure you’ve heard by now that roasted chickpeas make a perfectly addicting snack? I’ve experimented with them already, and have, more than once, gazed at the enormous #10 foodservice size cans of them in consideration of purchasing. Crazy? Maybe. But once you try this, you may understand why that’s not so dumb a thought.

But this dish? It’s a ‘Wow’ factor of 10. And an ‘Easy’ on the preparation scale. You’ll spend 10 minutes cutting and prepping, then you’ll pace for the 30 minutes it sits in your oven. Give the baking sheet a shake halfway through and that’s about it. The eggplant cooks to a creamy dream, onions settle in soft and caramelized and those chickpeas…… oh those chickpeas. Hold me back.

Good thing I’ve got that permanent turmeric-stained spoon. I’m going to need it.

 

Eggplant and Chickpea Curry

1 medium eggplant, diced
1 large red onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, cored and seeded, chopped
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (spread them and pat dry for extra crispness)
1/4 c. olive oil
2 t. good quality curry powder
1 t. dark brown sugar (sub molasses, muscavado or honey too, can use light brown sugar as well)

Preheat your oven to 400°

Whisk together the curry powder, sugar and oil in a small bowl. Combine the eggplant, onion, pepper and chickpeas, then pour the curry oil over and carefully toss together to combine. The eggplant will soak up the oil but don’t add anymore. Eggplant is a sponge; too much oil and it will be too soggy.

Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake, shaking the pan once or twice about halfway through, for 30 minutes. This dish can be consumed immediately, but takes on deeper flavor if allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Serve with naan or pita bread, over brown rice or on crisply toasted baguette slices.

KATE’S NOTES: For additional amazing flavor, add two large tomatoes that have been roasted as well, but don’t place them with the eggplant. They take far less time. For a good method, check this recipe.

 

Original recipe from Food & Wine, here with modifications