Onwards

IMG_2895 I’m in the thick of moving. I’ve been snatching every free newspaper I can find to wrap cocktail glasses. I had to clear pathways to the kitchen because I can barely walk through the piles upon piles of boxes. Yesterday I emptied my dresser of all my clothes and dragged it to the alley. Lists of places to clean and addresses to change and things to not forget are eating my brain.

I can’t promise many updates in the near future. My plan for this week involves using up a whole bottle of anchovies, a few bags of frozen blueberries, and eating a lot of cold cereal. Will I succeed? I hope so. Wasting food is cruelty by neglect. And because I desperately do not want to waste food I’ll be baking a bit in the coming days. I have a rye crust in the fridge for a blueberry pie, and enough bananas for this banana bread.

The banana bread in question is based off of a recipe from 101 Cookbooks, which in turn is based off of a Melissa Clark recipe. The one she makes is bright with lemon, sweet with chocolate chips, and moist with olive oil. It’s a deliciously decadent dessert, the kind you would bring to prove to people that desserts made from healthy ingredients should be made because they taste good, not for the health ingredients. I’ve made this bread several times and love it.

And last week I made two loaves of  this bread to work through my massive stack of frozen bananas. And because I have so much food to work through I got to work making adjustments for the things I do have. I swapped olive oil out for walnut oil, added chopped almonds and raisins instead of chocolate, and replaced the vanilla with amaretto. What is left is no longer dessert. It’s a quick breakfast that you can eat while running late to work. It’s a snack in the afternoon, smeared with butter and paired with a pot of tea. It’s warm, muted flavors, and it’s very, very good. And although it’s July right now, I think that it would be absolutely stellar once the leaves begin to change. IMG_2902 Walnut Oil Banana Bread

adapted from Melissa Clark via Heidi Swanson (101 Cookbooks) T

he original recipe states the bread should bake for 50 minutes. I’ve made it several times and in my oven it’s never taken less than 70 minutes. The best thing to do would be to set your timer for 50 minutes, and then watch carefully.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup walnut oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1 teaspoon amaretto

Preheat the oven to 350 and place a rack in the middle. Butter a loaf pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the almonds and raisins. Set aside.

In another large bowl whisk together the walnut oil eggs, bananas, yogurt, and amaretto. Fold the banana-oil mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan. Bake the banana bread until the loaf is golden brown and a tester comes out clean, between 50 and 70 minutes (see note). Set the baked bread on a cooling rack for ten minutes, then turn out of the pan. Let cool completely before eating.

How Sweet It Is

Last week I resigned my job. I had not been expecting to do so that early. I had a plan, an exit strategy. I was going to hang onto my job for as long as I could while spending that time looking for future work. It was not a brilliant plan but it was a responsible one. I was terrified of what would happen without work, even if it was only for a week. What would I do? How long would my savings last? What if I quit and found nothing?

But I spoke with Aaron that morning and said out loud, “I think I might put in my two weeks today.” And my heart felt light with those words, and the anxiety I had been carrying for weeks left me. I wrote the letter an hour before I went into work and floated through the work day. Almost exactly 24 hours after I put in my notice I received a job offer with better pay and better hours for work that I enjoy.

It’s a summer of Major Life Changes over here. Aaron moved out of Minneapolis last month because he got a job near Chicago. My AmeriCorps term is ending. We’re getting married. I’m starting a new job two days after leaving Minneapolis myself. And we aren’t sure where we will be living yet. It’s all so exciting that it sometimes makes my heart pound like a rabbit’s. No amount of hustling will magically transition us to a time of calm. There’s so still much left undone. I’m making to do lists compulsively. I’m optimizing my breaks at work with phone calls and emails and thank you’s. If I had the time I could easily sleep another two or three hours a night. And yet I feel like I’m glowing.

I’ve avoided talking about work here because it’s boring. And when it’s not boring it’s difficult to talk about without sounding negative. But the truth of it is this past year I worked up to 60 hours a week between two jobs. There were mornings that I was done before noon. And there were days when I started job number one at 7AM and ended job number two at 11PM. I sometimes cried because I was so exhausted. One job was an AmeriCoprs service posting, and so I made very little money this past year. It’s been a good experience, mostly, but also incredibly hard. I feel so much less naïve than I was at 23. I also feel more grateful. Now it feels like these insane past 12 months are paying off. In my darker moments I wasn’t sure if they ever would. One job. One commute. One paycheck. Overtime if I ever have to work insane hours again. My reality is finally changing.

That’s where I am now. I’m filled with relief and excitement. I miss Aaron so much it physically hurts and the thought of just being with him again is a balm on all my jagged edges. I have to figure out how to say goodbye to my friends here, the wonderful, interesting, creative people I’ve met, and how to leave Minneapolis, this city that taught me in so many ways how to be an adult. I still have to cram in my least favorite thing, wedding planning. And I have to collect boxes and start packing and cleaning my apartment and use every single item of food in my fridge. I hate wasting food, but I’m cooking for one now. It’s much harder to move through food and it’s less interesting. I can’t wait to feed Aaron again.

Even though I’m supposed to be focusing on downsizing I couldn’t stop myself from recently buying one beautiful, glossy, inspiring cookbook. The cookbook in question is Sarah Copeland’s Feast. I’ve wanted it since it came out and when I finally saw a physical copy I sighed because I knew it was coming home with me. On my first read through I dog-eared at least half of the recipes because everything sounded exactly like what I wanted to eat. Vegetarian food that exists because it’s delicious and nourishing and just happens to be good for you. That’s the sort of thing I love, and Feast is full of these sort of recipes. Like these semolina pancakes.

Due to the move I’ve been trying very hard to only cook things that have ingredients that I currently have. I can only buy produce, that’s been my rule. And these semolina pancakes delivered. There was two types of flour, both of which I had, both of which I did not want to schlep back to Illinois. Baking soda and baking powder, raw sugar, eggs. I had peaches sitting on the counter and butter in the freezer and a pint of blueberries and a jug of maple syrup languishing in the fridge.

I made these pancakes the day I put in my notice. It was storming and dark outside. I lit candles and made a pot of tea and danced around the kitchen as the pancakes cooked. As I ate these pancakes I wasn’t focusing on the monumental to-do list or the wedding or the vague hope and dread that comes from wanting something different from what your life is. Instead I was eating good food and drinking hot tea, listening to the rain, and remembering how good life can be if you let it.

 

Semolina Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

adapted from Feast by Sarah Copeland

Makes about 8-10 pancakes

I made these pancakes, ate a few for breakfast, and saved the rest. They have been making a sturdy, filling, and quick breakfast this week. These are thick and substantial pancakes, only faintly sweet but deeply pleasant, the sort you’d expect at country breakfast. The recipe originally calls for dairy milk but I used almond because that’s what I keep on hand. The blueberry syrup is my addition, because I’m hopeless against the flavor of blueberries and peaches together and because I always buy more blueberries than I intend.

Semolina Pancakes

1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup semolina flour
2 tablespoons turbinado or other raw sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup almond milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan and serving
2 large eggs

For serving:

ripe peaches, sliced
blueberries
pure maple syrup
butter

 

Whisk together both flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In another large bowl combine the almond milk, melted butter, and eggs. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet mixture in, whisking until just incorporated. Don’t worry if there are a few lumps.

Heat a cast iron skillet or a griddle over medium heat until a drop of water flecked onto the surface sizzles. Brush the skillet lightly with melted butter. Pour out about 1/3 cup of batter onto the skillet. If your skillet is large enough to do more than one pancake at a time, make sure you leave enough space to flip the pancakes. Cook the pancakes for about three minutes, until the bottoms are set and small bubbles begin to form around the edges. Flip the pancakes and cook about a minute on the other side until the bottoms are set. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm.

While the pancakes are cooking wash the blueberries. Combine the blueberries, any water holding onto the berries, and the maple syrup to taste in a small pan over medium heat. I used about a tablespoon of maple syrup per half pint of blueberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the blueberries have started to pop and turn jammy, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

To serve, smear the pancakes with butter, layer peach slices on top, and pour the blueberry syrup over.

The pancakes keep well in the refrigerator in a sealed container for about a week. 

Potato + Asparagus Hash

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I have no deep ramblings for you today. I have no struggling to figure out how food is a metaphor for how we live our lives. Instead, I have potatoes and asparagus fried together, a dish that is so simple I almost didn’t post it. But it’s so satisfying that it seems stupid not to.

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This was born because I’m sick of having food fall out of my fridge because it’s so full. I’m on a buying moratorium for everything besides produce until I can get my kitchen in a reasonable order. If you have any helpful tips for how to deal with overstocked everything, I’d love if you’d send them my way.

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Potato-Asparagus Hash

Serves about 2 for a light meal

Cut about 6 or so new potatoes into half moons and then slice thinly. Melt about 2 tablespoons of ghee or other good tasting fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and a pinch of salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Let potatoes fry until they can be easily cut with a wooden spoon and taste cooked, about 10 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, trim a bunch of asparagus and cut into half inch pieces. When the potatoes are cooked add in the asparagus, salt and pepper to taste, and add more fat if necessary. Continue sautéing, stirring when necessary, until the potatoes are dark gold and the asparagus is starting to caramelize. If you have them, some chives snipped in at this point are very nice.

Serve on its own or with a fried egg on top and a piece of thick toast to sop up all the juices.

 

Times like These

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Yesterday I drove to work angry. Do you ever have these feelings, anger at having to do the routine things that are inhibiting your ability to do those things that you actually want to do? Snow was blowing out of the gray sky and the last thing I wanted to do was go into work in this weather. I wanted to sit with a huge mug of hot chocolate and some awesome looking boots in a café and finish the book I’ve been reading for weeks. I wanted to drink bourbon, straight, in a smoky room. I hate the smell of tobacco. But when I was in high school I used to work at a pizza place, and when I walked into the bar there on weekends the room was so full of smoke that I could scarcely see where I was going. The image is so dramatic that it’s stayed with me. If I ever write that novel brewing in my head that image will appear there. That was back before I was on facebook, back before I had to pay for rent and car insurance, back when I could finish a book every few days. I’m too young to be feeling this old.

Lately I’ve been feeling ragged around the edges. Stress with work is getting to me, and I’ve been feeling cramped. I need to run, but I keep telling myself it’s too cold. My inbox is piling up. There’s not the time I want to work on the projects I’m excited about. I was told that spring was here to stay and today we’re in a winter snow watch. Self-care is becoming my mantra. I took a bath, long and luxurious, lingering in the water until it started to grow cold. And then I went to the kitchen and tried my hand at homemade pasta. Second try. Not the charm. I’ll crack it, eventually.

There’s no magic bullet to smooth my jagged edges during these times. I wish I could just close my eyes and count to ten and return refreshed. Sometimes when I open my eyes I can feel my heartbeat slowing. Other times I open my eyes and I become even more stressed because the stress has not diminished. How do you take care of yourself? What do you do on those days that are crappy, not disastrous? I’d love to know. Perhaps we can help each other, if not remove stress, learn to better live with it.

The kitchen becomes my refuge especially in times like this. I love baking because it’s alchemy. Wet ingredients. Dry ingredients. Butter, eggs, flour, sugar. It comes out neat and steaming, and gets eaten happily by everyone offered even if it’s not airbrush level flawless, if it’s got cracks and wrinkles. It makes me feel accomplished during times when I’m being stretched every other way. I feel grounded in the kitchen, feeling the sugar and flour I can never seem to sweep up under my bare feet. I can imagine myself being able to survive in a time without internet or cell phones or cars or all the noise. Bonus points if it makes enough to share AND I can eat it for breakfast.

The most recent product out of my kitchen is a hybrid of a banana bread and a bundt cake. It’s complex tasting and moist, and sweet, which makes it ideal for a dessert, and not too sweet, which means I don’t feel guilty when I wake up half an hour after I intended to and grab a few pieces for an incomplete breakfast. And if you’re like me in that you buy bananas for yourself and for the person who you voluntarily spend all your free time with and they only like bananas when they’re green, which is ridiculous, and you consequently currently have over a dozen overripe bananas sitting in your freezer that’s not even large enough to hold a cookie sheet, then you’re almost guaranteed to have the ingredients on hand at all time. Which is a godsend in times like these.

Banana Bread Bundt Cake

adapted from Baking: From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Dorie’s original recipe calls for creaming the butter with an electric mixer. I’ve used the method I found on Food52 to cream the butter by hand. If you have an electric mixer, then by all means use the mixer. You’ll be looking for the same visual cues.

I might glaze this next time. Dorie suggests a lemon glaze, but I’m thinking mocha.

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 very ripe bananas, mashed (Dorie says this will be about 1 ½ cups)
1 cup Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a bundt pan generously, and set it aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

Place the butter into a large mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the butter until smooth, and then use a fork, moving it in a motion you’d use to scramble eggs, to mix the butter until it’s lighter in color and fluffy. Your arm will be sore by this time. Alternatively, if you are not like me and actually have electronic gadgets in your kitchen, you could cream the butter with a mixer. Add in the sugar, and continue mixing with the fork using the same motions until it’s well incorporated and looks fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract, and then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each until well incorporated. Stir in the mashed bananas and switch back to a wooden spoon. Add in half of the flour mixture and stir. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like it will incorporate. It will. Add in the yogurt, stir well, and add in the last half of the flour. Pour into the prepared pan. Rap the pan on the counter to bring any air bubbles to the top, and then smooth the top of the batter.

Bake the cake for 60-70 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Check it at thirty minutes, and cover the top with foil if the top is browning too quickly. When finished, transfer the cake to a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack and letting cool at room temperature. It will stay on the countertop, covered, for about 5 days.

Reminders

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Last summer I worked briefly at a farm. It was a small, local organic place, and working there was fun- for the first hour or so, if the weather was nice. After that it was tiring and dull, back achingly hard work. The whole thing was something I wanted to love- so noble! So countercultural!- but I couldn’t. Farming was so much harder than I had ever imagined it would be, and I imagined it to be a lot of hard work. I was glad when I was finished. Guilty, but glad.

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I loved vegetables long before that- it’s one of the reasons I applied to work there- but I had never known just how wide the bounty could be. Numerous types of white onions, three varieties of watermelon, several plantings of sunflowers- I loved all of that. Learning and soaking up information. I learned that squash roots are terribly fragile, but cucumber are more so. I learned how to grow tomatoes in a hoop house and that I break out in rashes when weeding peas. All valuable information, all information I’m not sure I’ll ever use again.

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My time there serves as a reminder to me. That the difficult things have there own value. Some of that value comes from that it is difficult. That wanting to love something isn’t enough. That small farms deserve whatever support I can give them. That migrant workers who pick so much of the produce sold in the U.S. deserve much better wages and a more visible position in our society.  That I need to take the time to stop and stretch and look around when things are painful.  That I’m often wrong. And that I can always eat more vegetables.

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Ecsarole and Roast Cherry Tomato Salad

This recipe makes more cherry tomatoes than you need. You could double the recipe for two meal sized portions, or you could eat them at another time. I ate them the next day, room temperature with brie and a baguette, and highly recommend it.

Makes 1 meal-sized serving

1 quart cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt
Half a head of escarole, washed and torn into pieces
Parmesean cheese, for shaving
1 egg

Dressing

1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon stone ground mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt
pepper
sugar (optional)

In a mortor and pestle, or on a cutting board with a chef’s knife, pound the garlic into a paste. Whisk in the vinegar and mustard, and then whisk in the olive oil. Add the salt and pepper to taste, and add a pinch of sugar to the dressing if it tastes too harsh. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400. Combine the tomatoes, the thyme, the olive oil, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and toss well to combine. Turn out onto a cookie sheet and roast the cherry tomatoes until they’ve started to collapse onto themselves, about 20 minutes.

In a medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid combine the egg and several inches of cold water to cover. Bring the pot to boil, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. While the egg sits fill a bowl with ice and cold water. When the five minutes are up transfer the egg using a slotted spoon and let it sit in the water for 10 minutes. Peel and slice into quarters.

Place the escarole in a large bowl. Rewhisk the dressing, and pour over the escarole, using your hands to toss the dressing. Transfer to a plate and add the roasted cherry tomatoes. Shave Parmesean over the salad (I use a vegetable peeler), top with the egg, and eat.