Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts of Home and Zucchini Muffins

The graceful zucchini is ubiquitous this time of year, dangling from sprawling plants in gardens and piled high on the tables at the farmer's market. Glad am I, that they are plentiful. Like their other vegetable friends, zucchini can be eaten raw or cooked. I find zucchini desirable almost any way you serve it but I really really like zucchini muffins. This recipe isn't one that I found in the Mennonite Community Cookbook. In fact, the only thing listed under Z in the index of that collection of recipes is zwiebach. The recipe I share now is adapted slightly from my mom's zucchini bread recipe. I know that if Grandma had tasted this bread, she would have scrawled the recipe in the hallowed pages of her best coookbook.

A few things in this world serve as the most salient reminders of home. Zucchini bread is one such item to me. Mom made it many times and it is on the short list of never fail comfort foods. When it is baking, it has a warm cinnamon aroma that stirs my senses and makes me think of my mom's various kitchens. Home, essentially having one, has been in the front of my consciousness this past week. The colors and smells of every place I have been fortunate enough to call home are in the deep recesses of my memory, easily triggered by a smell or a sound.

Homes should be sacred spaces. Homes are where we are wanted and loved. Homes can also be complicated and crazy. Sometimes people have to call more than one venue home. Divorce can be like a blunt instrument to the heart of those who go through it and the children of divorced families can tell you that when they switch homes, they also switch loyalties, paradigms, and expectations. It is difficult even in the best of circumstances. There is so much associated with our experiences of home and to be asked to make that adjustment requires that some time, care,and understanding be extended to the mobile child. When I help my daughter pack her bags, carry them to her car and hug her goodbye there is always some sadness for me. She is eager to go share life at her dad's house and she has people who love her there but she has to make a switch and it hurts. For children of divorce, a home can be a good place but it can also be a place where they always miss somebody.

Sharing a home is something of an extended forgiveness boot camp because we show our worst and most petty issues to those who live with us. Family members sometimes need us when we are tired or sick or overwhelmed. Sometimes we rise and bless and sometimes we fail. To keep our homes a place where all living things can grow, we must be sure there is plenty of light and water both literally and figuratively. Kindess is light, laughter is water. Meals shared (warm zucchini muffins for example) are water.

I think too that we must remember that our heart is our home and perhaps some who live without a walls or roofs know that better than we do. There is a dignity in the human heart that cannot be taken away. There is a desire to give and to contribute that can come from those who have the great reserves of compassion and largesse that goes with them wherever they lay their heads. I have been the recipient of such graces from those in difficult living situations. At homeless shelters there is rejoicing when people are connected with resources to get a home. We rejoice when anyone, ourselves included, rise above restlessness and addictions and learn to be at home in our own hearts.

Here is the recipe for zucchini muffins:

3 eggs
1 cup canola oil
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups flour
1 T wheat germ
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients. Pour into greased muffin tins. BAke at 325 for 20-25 minutes. Makes 18 muffins.

Hoping you are at home in your heart today,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vegetables from the Farmers' Market: Cucumber Salad times 2

It is summer and here in my little town, that means the Farmers' Market is here. How I love to go, bag in hand, to the market to buy fresh vegetables. Presently, I am a girl without a garden. My little mint crop is flourishing and I have some nice blooming flowers, but no rows of green beans, corn, or onions grace my backyard. My husband and I tend my parent's garden when they are gone and reap the benefits even when they are not. When we moved into our present house, there was no garden plot but we do plan to change that because we find ourselves missing the benefits of growing and sowing.

If my mother taught me to find joy in the kitchen, my father taught me to find joy in the garden. There are so many memories of my dad planting, watering, and picking vegetables in his garden. He would beckon us, my brothers and I, from our play to come and help. I remember one summer when I was about 11, Dad walked me to a mysterious looking set of plants and said, "Here. This is your job this summer. Water these plants." "What are they?" I asked. "Rhubarb" he replied." I protested, "But I don't even like rhubarb." "That's okay, water it anyway." And so I did. The rhubarb flourished even under the reluctant beginnings of our relationship. As it grew, I developed a respect for its thick stalks and rosy color. When we finally harvested it, I was proud. I still didn't love the taste but after putting all that work into it, I for darn sure was going to partake! Smart man, my dad.

Last Saturday, I bought some lovely cucumbers from a local gardener. They looked so great on her stand reclining in a basket in fetal postions. I tried two recipes with them that I am going to share. One from Grandma's cookbook and one from a clipping I have from a magazine. They are both fantastic!

Cucumber Salad (Russian) from the Mennonite Community Cookbook
1 quart thick sour milk or buttermilk (I mixed sour cream and half and half)
4 medium cucumbers
1 T salt
2 T vinegar
Pare and slice cucumbers into thin rings.
Sprinkle with 1 1/8 tsp salt and let stand 3 minutes
Beat sour milk with an egg beater until smooth.
Add vinegar and remaining salt.
Drain cucumbers and add to milk.


Cucumbers with Oregano, Feta and Pine Nuts
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
8 cucumbers peeled and sliced
3 sprigs fresh oregano, stems removed
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
black pepper
Combine shallot and vinegar in a small bowl. Let stand about 10 minutes. Add olive oil and salt, whisking well. Pour vinaigrette over cucumbers and toss well. Sprinkle with oregano, cheese and pine nuts. Season with black pepper.

Happy (fresh) Eating!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mennonite Food Revolution: Cream Waffles

There is much ado, if one follows popular culture, about the new Food Revolution series. This series shares themes with a book by Michael Pollan, Food Rules as well as the documentary Food, Inc. These are old ideas with a new spin. Know what is in your food. Eat to live, not live to eat. Banish highly processed foods from your diet. Make room for green space on your table. Go ahead and eat mashed potatoes, gravy, and chicken strips. Just make them yourself.

Many Mennonites, and other healthy minded, sensible folks have been doing this for a long time. I have found the Mennonite Community Cookbook a treasure trove of delicious recipes made from healthy and simple ingredients. There is, to be sure, a lot of butter and cream used. Few recipes call for wheat flour. But the basics are there. Making good food ,with locally found ingredients and then savoring them at the family table. I take the liberty to make some substitutes: low fat cream, whole wheat flour, less salt and sugar when I can. I also think of quality, not quantity, when I shop, eat, and prepare. Less food, better taste!

The cream waffles my husband and I enjoyed this balmy morning are from Grandma's cookbook. They are wonderful. We topped them with organic peanut butter and syrup and enjoyed them in their sticky glory. They are easy to mix and make and I had all the ingredients already in the house.

Cream Waffles
2 cups flour (1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup thick sour cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, separated

Mix dry ingredients together.
Beat egg yolks and add milk and cream.
combine with dry ingredients.
Fold in stiffly beaten eggg whites.
Makes 6 waffles.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

Thoroughly enjoying my Mennonite Food Revolution,

Food Rules
Michael Pollan (2009)
Food, Inc.
Robert Kenner, Director (2008)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Knocking on Heaven's Door: Icebox Cheesecake

In celebration of Memorial Day I made a recipe that was written on an index card in Grandma's script and stuck in the pages of her cookbook. The day was hot with a temperature in the 90's and the Icebox Cheesecake seemed the ideal recipe to try. I marveled that the recipe had to have been written around 30 years ago and that it remained in the folds of the well-turned pages in spite of the many times the book was open and shut, packed and moved, and handed from mother to daughter to daughter.

Memorial Day is also a time to remember those who have come and gone on this earth. Obeisance to my culinary heros led me back to the hallowed pages of Grandma's cookbook. The idea that we all have a one way ticket on this train, that we are here but for a stay, was not lost to me that day. My mother had recently suffered an illness that scared us all a bit and my parents recently lost a good friend who was an important person to those who knew him and his family. I read the obituaries with alarming regularity, mostly to honor the gift of life and to remind me to be grateful for the day and the opportunities therein. I feel in living my life, I am traveling a path that has been well trod by many wiser than me and I like to look at their footprints as I walk the road. When I am quiet I hear their voices, when I look with my heart, I can see their faces and I am taken back to places like my grandparents' front porch, the little church in PA where my father pastored, the sandbox,the Kindergarten classroom, the college laboratory and so many other venues where I learned from those who were my teachers and my guides.

We are all of us, with our friend Bob Dylan, knocking on Heaven's door and will be remembered hopefully well by those we have loved and cherished when we are gone. In the above picture, you see my daughter Emily and her fiance who are embarking on the journey of marriage in about a month. They practiced their cake sharing moment with this cheesecake. Chris, said fiance, after his taste pronounced it "gold". Or maybe it was his bride-to-be he was referring to! I wish them many happy years to make memories together.

This cheesecake from the handwritten card of my grandma is very tasty and fit for a special summer day.

Icebox Cheesecake
1 stick butter melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (crushed)
2 T sugar.
Press this mixture in a 8 X 13 pan, saving a few crumbs for the top.
1 package lemon jello
1 cup hot water
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Dissolve jello in 1 cup hot water and let it set until it begins to solidify. Beat cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar until creamy. Beat the can of condensed milk in a chilled bowl. Add jello to cream cheese mixture and fold in whipped milk. Sprinkle with crumbs and put in refrigerator until served.

Wishing you time to enjoy good memories,