Mothers Day (and A+ Zucchini Bread)

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When I think about it, I suppose I have a tradition of posting on Mothers Day. And I say the same thing every year--motherhood is amazing, but mothering is more so.

Joan Halifax is a hero of mine who started the Project on Being with Dying. She's a zen priest and anthropolgist, and when she's not training folks on the contemplative care of dying people, she's training the healthy on how not to be scared of death. She says,

Tibetan Buddhists say that we have all been one another's mother in a previous lifetime. Imagining every being as your mother, practice offering love equally to all whom you encounter, including strangers, creatures, and even those who have hurt you...Thinking of all beings with motherly love is a good reference point when I have fallen into automatic behavior, am feeling alienated, or am having trouble opening my heart.

I think most of us, much of the time, have "fallen into automatic behavior." Stress and obligations push us into that place so easily. We forget we have a choice, moment to moment, about what kind of people we want to be. We forget to be nurturing. And, for myself and lots of women in my world, we really forget how to let ourselves be nurtured.

I tear up when I think of all the beings throughout my life who have offered their motherly love to me. My own mother, who determined she was never going to repeat her own childhood experience of not having enough love. Emily, who makes me Easter baskets, remembers when I have stressful meetings coming up, asks me the best questions, and can handle all my emotions and opinions. Breeze, who took my kids for the night this week and made them bacon on a weekday. (They didn't want to come home.) Jackie, who modeled to me, so many years ago, how to be a feisty mother with dreams. Cristina, who pours out her motherly love on my children. Padre, my dog, who loves me with an undying love even though I yell at him to get out of the kitchen. 

Though I'll never master it, I'm into tenderness lately. This life is far too short to withhold from one another. I especially ache for all the women in my life and in the world who want to be mothers and it hasn't happened yet. Or will never happen. I can't say anything to make that better, but I do know that love isn't scarce. As my pastor said this morning, there is good news everywhere. We're just telling the wrong stories.

So Happy Mothering Day. May you experience someone being tender toward you today.

A+ Zucchini Bread
I haven't made zucchini bread in a long time, and boy was this good. We snacked off it all weekend. It's a combo of several different recipes, and would work well with a gluten-free flour blend if that's your thing. Makes two loaves.

1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. soda
3 Tb. poppy seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. brown sugar
2 1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 c. water
2 c. grated zucchini
1 c. shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 c. toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. candied ginger, coarsely chopped
1 Tb. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two bread pans.

Combine flour, salt, nutmeg, soda, poppy seeds, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, and zucchini. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then add coconut, walnuts, ginger, and zest. Bake in 2 pans until tester comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. 

Zucchini Cupcakes

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Zucchini from CSA+lazy Sunday morning+work avoidance+appreciative children+Martha Stewart recipe=zucchini cupcakes.

Jan Philips' poetry+a recovering perfectionist+food obsession=this poem.

Going for it

Overnight, the yogurt thickens,
straining through cheesecloth,
fermenting to sour.

Blossom on the hairy vine
is suddenly squash
for stir fries, braises, gratins.

Eggs, alert and solo in their carton,
are whisked into yellow froth 
of frittata, omelet, crepe. 

I see now I've been holding back,
getting it right when I could get it
deliciously wrong.

What if I was transformed every day? 

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Zucchini Cupcakes
I followed this recipe almost exactly EXCEPT I didn't add nuts (Kids. You know them.) and I added 1/4 c. buttermilk at the last moment because the batter looked a little stiff to me, probably because I put more zucchini in than it called for. I ended up really liking the little bit of tang the buttermilk gave them. 

Recipe

Analog Sundays

Pantry Minnestrone

So far, so good. A few weeks ago, I resolved to not open the computer on Sundays. It's amazing to wake up in the morning knowing I won't be beholden to anyone's urgent email or sucked into reading Facebook updates. Emily has been talking a lot about Sabbath lately, so I suppose it's rubbing off. One of her current favorite quotes from Sabbath by Wayne Muller:

"I have sat on dozens of boards and commissions with many fine, compassionate, and generous people who are so tired, overwhelmed, and overworked that they have neither the time nor the capacity to listen to the deeper voices that speak to the essence of the problems before them.  Presented with the intricate and delicate issues of poverty, public health, community well-being, and crime, our impulse, born of weariness, is to rush headlong toward doing anything that will make the problem go away.  Maybe then we can finally go home and get some rest.  But without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in the problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief.  Born of desperation, it often contains enough fundamental inaccuracy to guarantee an equally perplexing problem will emerge as soon as it is put into place.  In the soil of the quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable."

I love how he contrasts our default problem-solving methods with "quiet wisdom." I haven't been trying to solve world poverty on Sundays, but I sure have felt some of that quiet strength.

Space Needle

And I've been making soup. A quick fridge-cleaning produces a pot to share at church, and the kitchen volunteers are always happy to receive it. Last week, I used leftover chickpea curry. I dumped it in a pot with leftover rice, added water, another can of tomatoes, and fresh spinach. The only problem, of course, is being asked for the recipe--"Make too much chickpea curry, and leave it forgotten in the fridge for a few days. Pull it out, find some cooked rice in the back, and see what you can do it with it."

This week, the bits in the pantry and produce drawer were much more accommodating if, for instance, the cook were a food blogger and wanted to scrounge up something to keep her faithful readers on the line.

P.S. Seattle friends, when was the last time you were at Volunteer Park? The leaves are turning, all the lovers and families were out yesterday afternoon, and I even got Yancey to take a picture of ME, for once. Oh--and those rascally children of mine.
Volunteer Park

Pantry Minestrone
These were the things I happened to have around, but you could certainly use lots of other things--white beans instead of kidney and garbanzo, shredded cabbage or spinach instead of kale, carrots and celery.

Couple big glugs of olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow or red pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, finely chopped
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
couple handfuls chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and lemon thyme)
1 bay leaf
pinch red pepper flakes
1 or 2 parmesan rinds
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 14-oz. can kidney beans, drained
3/4 c. small elbow macaroni
1/4 c. fine bulgar
1 bunch fresh kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
water
juice of one small lemon

Saute olive oil in a big stockpot. Add onion, garlic, diced pepper, and zucchini. Saute for five minutes, then add salt, pepper fresh herbs, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes. Saute for a couple minutes, then add parmesan rind, tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, and enough water to cover by a couple inches. Bring to a simmer, then add macaroni and bulgar. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until pasta is tender. Take out a couple cupfuls (or stick an immersion blender in there) and puree. Add puree back to soup, add chopped kale and lemon juice, and stir. Add more water along the way at any point, and taste at the end, adding more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh herbs, or lemon juice to taste. Serve with chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

 

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

roasted vegetable lasagne
By now, you've all made your Roasted Tomato Sauce, right? Good. Get that gooey jar out.

Before the recipe, I want to say that I'm ending this week with a lot of gratitude. A couple days ago, I was extremely anxious about work--the kind of anxiety that causes one to forget about lunch (unheard of around here!), tense up everywhere, and take an inventory of everything I don't know and can't do. I am much better now, thanks to some stern self-talk, coaching from my mentor, and a bouquet of flowers from my husband. I've had lots of learning this week, but here's a big one: Asking for help is a good idea. Vulnerability, though we hate it, turns out to be the only real path to success and connection sometimes.

And a little lasagne never hurt, either. I love the meat-laden 9x13 as much as the next person. But if you want something different and less artery-clogging, this is it. This was a true leftoverist meal--sauce from a couple days ago, mushrooms and squash from the produce stand, a fennel bulb knocking around underneath the wrinkling peppers in the crisper. On my way home from the library, trying to remember what was in my fridge, I stopped at the store for lasagne noodles and créme fraiche. Everything else was here. Something else to be grateful for--this crazy, stuffed fridge of mine, doling out plenty in a time of want.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne
I'm a big fan of the no-boil lasagne noodles. They're EASY, and so much more tender than the curly, tough kind. You can cut right through these with a fork. The key is to make sure they're totally covered in sauce (doesn't have to be a thick layer, but make sure there are no dry noodles hanging around) and to loosely tent your casserole with foil while baking--a little steam helps the noodles soften up, too. And this exact combo of veggies isn't necessary. I wouldn't sub out the mushrooms, as they bring a needed meatiness and texture. But you could do more mushrooms and less squash, leave out the fennel, sub eggplant for squash. The layers in this version might be a bit more scant than other lasagnes you've made--I think that makes it better.


4 cups roasted tomato sauce (or fresh tomato sauce or marinara)
1 pkg.(9 oz.) no-boil lasagne noodles
1.5 lb crimini or portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped (i.e. halved if crimini are medium-size)
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced into 1/2" half-moons
8 whole garlic cloves
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
coarse salt
pepper
red pepper flakes
1/4 c. olive oil
3/4 c. créme fraiche or sour cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 lb. whole milk mozarella, grated
1 c. grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425.

Toss mushrooms, zucchini, fennel, and garlic cloves with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Toss with your hands till everything is evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until mixture is softening and charred in places, about 35 minutes. You don't want it so everything is non-distinct. Remove from oven and let cool and turn the oven down to 375.

Mix grated mozarella and parmesan in a small bowl and set aside.

In another small bowl, combine creme fraiche with lemon juice and set aside.

To assemble lasagne, pour 1 c. of the sauce into the bottom of a 9x13. Lay 4 of the lasagne sheets horizontally on the bottom, just slightly overlapping one another. Then layer 1/3 of roasted veggies, 1 c. of cheese mixture, drizzle of creme fraiche mixture, and one more cup of sauce. Repeat this twice more, using up all of the veggies and creme fraiche, but saving about 1 c. sauce and some cheese. Over the last (fourth) layer, put one more layer of lasagne noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheese over that.

Loosely tent with foil and bake until noodles are soft and the whole thing is bubbly, about 45-50 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes. Let rest at least 10 minutes before cutting it.

Zucchini Pecan Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

cake for karl

There is nothing dramatic about this cake. A simple 9 inch round, one bowl to mix it in, getting crazy with a little cinnamon in the traditional cream cheese frosting. In other words, my kind of dessert.

golden round

The sort to make for a weeknight dinner guest. Our longtime friend Karl is leaving Seattle by way of a 'round the world trip. Of course he's endured his fair share of Eat, Pray, Love jokes, but he's in a different category, I assure you. The category of working to get through grad school, getting a job helping homeless folks find housing, and now risking like crazy to leave all that. We are going to miss him, and nothing says, "Don't forget about us!" like food. He requested puttanesca for dinner and this cake was (surprise!) concocted based on my produce drawer. (By the way, if you're interested in a spot-on commentary on the whole Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon--i.e. "How was that trip funded?!"--click here. I love it when the author says that most of us need to have our epiphanies in the middle of everyday life. Or in the middle of sheer survival.)

For Karl, on his grand adventure. May he, with joy, be thrown into the highs and lows, the sights and smells, the loneliness and companionship that such a trip can bring. And for the rest of us, on our grand adventures. Maybe it's making a cake for the first time. Maybe it's saying "no" to something we've always wanted to refuse. Maybe it's settling into the very UNadventurous reality of our own lives and--miracle of miracles--being content there.

frosting

Zucchini Pecan Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
I love that this cake uses olive oil instead of vegetable oil to moisten it. Like the recipe says, don't use extra virgin. I usually have some milder stuff around for uses like this. I love the very slightest hint of depth it gives the cake. If you don't have a mild olive oil in your pantry, I'd sub vegetable oil before you throw in an expensive extra virgin variety. And I didn't have a 9" pan with 2" sides, so used a 9" springform instead. It worked beautifully.

Recipe

Firsts and Lasts and Rice and Bean Salad

rice and bean salad

Two events this week--one that feels major for our little family, and one that's devastating for lots of people in my community.

First, Wyatt and I are separated for five days. He's staying with my parents and going to camp. He's having the time of his life, calling every night with reports of going pedal-boating, eating ring pops from the camp candy store, and being spoiled by his grandparents. I opened my Mom's fridge to find a cup of blackberries with this note sticking out the top. I've never been away from him this long, and it's made harder by the fact that I'm especially infatuated with him right now.  I miss his helpfulness, his little routines around the house, standing over his bed and watching him sleep. This is ridiculous. He'll be home Friday night.

do-not-eat

And my dear friend and colleague Bud passed away on Sunday night. I can't really get my head around it yet. My heart aches for his wife and my friend Kathy, for all of us that loved and knew him. I'm so grateful for his life, for the love and generosity he showed to me, and that his community will be together soon to celebrate him.

Bud's death has made these last few days seem especially poignant and fragile. I haven't wanted to let Loretta out of my sight, and dragged myself to my meetings today. What is this life, if not precious? We are all born to die, but I manage to skirt that reality quite a bit most the time. Right before I got the dark news, Loretta asked, "Mom, how do persons die?" And tonight she said, "Well, that's okay if you and me die. We just won't have bodies anymore." But right now, we have these bodies, and the only thing to do with them is love. I plan to do it more fiercely than ever.

Postscript: Here's a salad I've made twice this week. Once for Jordan's homecoming picnic, and today to drop off for Kathy. Comings and goings, firsts and lasts. Chalk another one up for the comfort of the kitchen. At the very least, it's something to do with our hands when nothing else makes sense.

grilled zucchini

Rice and Bean Salad
This salad is great to take to potlucks or to grieving households. It's vegan (though you could add some crumbled feta or queso fresco), gluten-free, and quite sturdy. It can sit in the fridge and be picked at for lunch or dinner, or can be piled on top of greens with some grilled chicken for a main dish. Or you could deliver it with some torillas, shredded romaine, and chipotle crema to make roll-ups. It might not garner a bunch of oohs and ahs at first glance, but the garlicky cumin dressing will hook people. This makes a very large bowlful. Halve it if your life is slightly less full of potlucks than mine has been.

2 1/2 c. brown basmati rice
2 15 oz. cans black beans
4 small zucchini
2 c. fresh corn kernels or Trader Joe's roasted corn, (sold frozen)
couple big handfuls chopped Italian parsley or cilantro
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 c. raw pumpkin sides for garnish

For dressing:
1 Tb. coarse salt
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ancho chile powder
Fresh ground pepper
Juice of two limes
2/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Cook your rice. I do mine in a rice cooker, then let the whole batch cool in the fridge overnight, breaking up clumps when I dump it into the bowl. However you do it (lots and lots of water on the stove would be another way), your grains should emerge separate, not all stuck together, and you'll want the rice down to cool down a bit before proceeding.

Grill the zucchini (I used my grill pan). Cut each zucchini in half crosswise, then cut each half lengthwise into four 1/4" flat strips. Toss the strips with a bit of olive oil and salt, and grill for about 2 minutes/side. Cool a bit, then dice.

If you're not using Trader Joe's amazing frozen roasted corn kernels (my new favorite thing), you can just use raw corn if it's really sweet and fresh. If it doesn't fit that description, toast it in a skillet with a tiny bit of olive oil and salt for a few minutes just to take the raw edge off.

Gently toss rice, zucchini, corn, and all other ingredients together.

To make dressing, combine first four ingredients, then whisk olive in to emulsify. Gently toss salad with dressing, and top salad with pumpkin seeds.