Here's August and also carrot salad

I'm sitting here procrastinating work, just so we're clear here. I'm using you to prolong actual work. But after a conversation I just had I think maybe what this REALLY is all about is a desire to play or at least approach words a bit more freely here.  

I know I'm justifying procrastination, but there's truth there too.  

August is a landslide of change. My teacher man heads back to the classroom, our schedules flex and fill in more ridgid ways. This year, my son goes to public school...I hold that truth at arms length. But there it all is, looming. He turns 6 in a couple of weeks. I turn 38 a few days before that. So August always seems to pummel me a bit with shifting and incessant full-feeling.  

But with that comes an adrenal pulse. My eyes open a fraction wider, I'm well aware of my heart in my chest, I'm awake again. But really longing for the pillowy freedom of summer. But ahead we go, like it or not. Change is a coming, the milk expires after Silas is in school and I'm older and "normal" is back.  

But I need the mess to be boxed in--spiritually, socially, emotionally. I've always felt the most me when I can have a room with nice straight and steady walls and space within to be free. Free and un-free all at once. Summer's flexibility breeds too much laziness in me, too much free time to waste. I gotta have a schedule and a deadline, and I don't seem to have the wherewithal to self impose. 

But in my freedom, I found this recipe that you should make as soon as possible. MAKE THIS I say, because it's surprising and delicious and needs to be shared because it makes so much. It's bright and tart and sweet and crunchy and just so good.  It has nothing to do with August or anything but I found it was an excellent catalyst for having some friends over and therefore forcing me to hurricane around the house cleaning and straightening. May it wake you up to a new season or meal or gathering.  

Here's a picture my friend Deb took of her leftovers of our communal meal, just in case a picture of carrot salad gives you some reference:  

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There's a bunch of fiddly chopping involved. The pistachios especially irked me. Use it as mediation time, or like I did the first time I made it, make it with friends (like Deb). DO IT. 

 

Ingredients

4 cups grated carrots (I just grated a bag of whole carrots from the store)

1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

7 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons olive oil

zest and juice of 2 limes

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon tumeric

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup shelled roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (let's be real--I made this twice and forgot the cheese both times. Didn't miss it, for what it's worth) 

Make it: 

  1. In a large bowl, combine the carrots, garbanzo beans, chopped dates, green onions, cilantro and chopped pistachios.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together olive oil, zest and juice of limes, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
  3. Pour the dressing over the carrot mixture and toss to coat. Sprinkle in the feta cheese and toss lightly. Or forget to add the cheese
  4. Serve immediately or cover and chill in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Adapted from Sara Forte, Sprouted Kitchen

 

Recipe Box: blueberry swirl cake (with blemish-concealing citrus glaze)

It's blueberry season! Let's eat cake, let's share cake, let's take a glamour shot of said cake. We took this beauty over to our friend's house the other night and man oh man if it had A Moment. It's just that good.  

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I love this recipe because the berries are really incorporated into the batter, because you make a simple jam from a portion of the fresh berries. This makes gorgeous, deeply flavored swirls in a rich, buttery cake...something I prefer over biting into a baked blueberry blob. This hearkens back to my younger self picking all the blueberries out of a muffin. Deflated, watery, tasteless...nothing that should describe a fresh blueberry. Degradation! But no more with this recipe. 

Try it! You can do this!  

And even if you liberally spray your bundt pan with baking spray and the darn cake still sticks (man, I had a feeling it would happen, I think I cursed it--and I wrote down how you can avoid it), well doggone it, make this easy (as cake?) citrus glaze to mask your mistakes. It improved what's already a lovely thing. I like when that happens. 

This recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated, a magazine I've hoarded and now don't know where all those saved issues are.... 

Blueberry Swirl Bundt Cake

 Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (yes that seems weird but it really works) 

3/4 cup buttermilk (or do the spoonful of vinegar in milk trick...OR come over to our house and get the rest of our buttermilk out of the fridge) 

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice (this was two lemons) 

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs plus 1 large yolk, room temperature

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

Filling:

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons low- or no-sugar-needed fruit pectin

Pinch of salt

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

Glaze:  

2 cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons lemon and/or lime juice  

 

Method:

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 325 degrees. Heavily spray nonstick bundt pan with baking spray and flour. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in large bowl. Whisk buttermilk, lemon zest, juice and vanilla together in medium-size bowl.

Gently whisk eggs and yolk to combine in third bowl. (I know! The bowls! So many!) 

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping as needed. Reduce speed to medium and beat in half of eggs until incorporated, about 15 seconds, then repeat with remaining eggs, scraping down bowl after incorporating.

Reduce speed to low and add 1/3 of flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until just incorporated after each addition, about 5 seconds.

Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture. Scrape down bowl, add remaining flour mixture and mix on medium-low until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with a rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside while preparing filling (batter will inflate a bit.)

Filling: Whisk sugar, pectin and salt together in a small saucepan.

Process blueberries in a blender until mostly smooth, about 1 minute.

Transfer 1/4 cup puree and lemon zest to saucepan with sugar mixture and stir to thoroughly combine.

Heat sugar-blueberry mixture over medium heat until just simmering, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar and pectin.

Transfer mixture to medium-size bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Add remaining puree and lemon juice to cooled mixture and whisk to combine. Let sit until slightly set, which make take around 15 minutes. This is an important step! I didn't wait long enough and that was my pan-stick problem. Learn from my impatient ways! 

Spoon half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Using back of spoon, create 1/2-inch-deep channel in center of batter. Spoon half of filling into channel.

Using butter knife or small offset spatula, thoroughly swirl filling into batter (there should be no large pockets of filling remaining). Repeat swirling step with remaining batter and filling.

Bake until top is golden brown and skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cake directly onto wire rack. Allow cake to cool for at least 3 hours before serving.

Want (or in my case need) a glaze?  

Sift powdered sugar into a bowl (at this point, I just barely wiped out a bowl...enough with the bowls!), mix in two tablespoons of juice, adding the remaining tablespoon a drop at a time to make a thick but pourable glaze. Decorate with berries and mint leaves and make someone's day.  

Unfurling

Hello again. I'm here, tending soil and finding quiet. And failing at the latter a lot more than I'd like you to know. But here I am. 

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After two growing (a term used loosely in light of the results) seasons of squash vines given over to boring (tunneling, not dull) grubs and single eggplants and a handful of okra...paltry results for the work of tilling and weeding and waiting...we dug out one of our four garden plots. It's got to be the soil, so overused and tired. We needed to start all over. 

By "we" I mean my husband. Digging out the plot became such hard prisoner type work that he determined only one plot per year could be excavated. Southern red clay petrifies, roots hold fast. He dumped a pickup truck bed worth of rich, bought soil in its place. Loose and loamy. 

And then I planted, the same as ever. Nothing is as faith-filling as planting a garden. Seed to sprout? To full fruiting plant all the way to our plates? Yes and yes and yes. Amen. It will happen, I blindly tend every Spring, not a doubt in my mind even after a few summers of drout and duds. Hands in the soil and sun on my neck, the small and still voice is Present, audible and amiable.  

Oh, but this year! That soil we traded out? The plot of tomoatoes and squash erupt with such enthusiasm that I confessed to my friend Emily the other day that I'm half afraid of it. The way it climbs and clings and produces is so unabashedly vigorous I'm baffled.  

In the compost mix must've been some cast-out squash of some sort, vines growing beyond borders, greedy for space and sun, spitting and squeezing out ovals of fruit nobody can identify. It's not a melon, wrong stem for that, though I cut one open and the fresh smell of honeydew had me convinced except the seeds are wrong. Maybe a gourd? A spaghetti squash? Whatever it is, we are good at growing it...there's at least 24 of the things expanding before our very eyes.  

I didn't come here to talk to you about gardening really, though this is typical of the South this time of year. You talk about soil, you walk up to check on things, you report on pests and fertilizers. Proud and perplexed, at least that's us.  How's your garden, we ask. Y'all getting any tomatoes yet? 

I came here I guess because with this season comes the tug of words. Not for an assignment but just for the sake of the thing itself. Not unlike planting something and just walking away. Not expecting much in return save the feeling of dirt underneath your hands and the sun on your neck. The feeling of being once again a part of something. Bigger and smaller all at the same time. Remembering the cycles of the moon as we tilt and spin on a sphere of rock and water. Held and tended.  

For some of my friends this year has been hard and root bound. The world is all impermeable edges and there doesn't seem to be much color. Sweetness and growth seem impossible and improbable, but yet even now they feel tendrils pushing up. Out of our miniscule microcosms...damn if we don't keep growing even when it's dark.  

I can't believe it really, it scares me how green and wild and ALIVE things can be. Out of my hands, hidden and rooted, a sprout bows and bends and unseen--its two hands reach for the sun.