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Saturday, July 25, 2009

lemony sauteed zucchini


Before I quit my office job three years ago, Dan and I discussed, brainstormed, argued, and daydreamed about what we wanted to do next. In the end, of course, we decided to build our whole-grain sourdough bread bakery, but we didn’t know that at first. It was all up in the air. One possibility was a restaurant. Should we open a little café? Our idea for a restaurant was almost as quirky as our bakery is now, with limited days and hours, limited seating, and an daily-changing, seasonal menu that only offered a couple of choices every day. Neither of us had worked in restaurants before, so we didn’t have direct experience, but we were both pretty certain that the hours would be grueling, that serving the kind of food we wanted to share with the world would involve vast amounts of vegetable prep, and that opening a restaurant would require the integration of a myriad of different components above and beyond mere food (beverages, for instance, and the glassware to contain it… reservations, parking, and perhaps even employees—ack!)

But these issues didn’t make our decision. After all, we were naïve, idealistic, and had no idea what staring our own business would really be like. The real reason for not opening a café was that I wanted to preserve the joy of cooking for myself and my family and friends. I was afraid that if I spent so much time cooking for guests, stretching my creativity to feed and nurture others, I might lose my love of everyday home cooking. 

I know now that it was absolutely the right choice to open a bakery instead, since we still love baking together, and the bread we bake to sell and share feeds us the whole week through. In addition, I don’t find that baking bread dampens my desire to bake the occasional cake, pie, or cookie.

However, even though I haven’t been cooking for hordes of people, I’ve spent a LOT of time over the last three years providing recipes and healthy cooking ideas for other people through writing my farmers market newsletters, my cookbook, my Glacier Grist newsletters for the CSA, and in my wintertime bakery newsletters. The irony of it is that I’ve been so busy with all these recipe projects that I can hardly remember the last time I read a cookbook for a new idea, or for fun. And especially this last year it seems that I’ve just been hanging in there, cooking very simply, focusing on eating food I’d previously cooked and frozen, and using tried and true recipes. I’ve not been getting very creative or adventuresome because I’ve just been too worn out and overwhelmed.

But things are beginning to change, now that I have help with the newsletters (thank you, Nancy and Sherrill!). While I’m still not diving into cookbooks with my previous reckless abandon, at least I’m a little more interested in cooking! Things are really starting to look up! This recipe is a tasty one that I developed last year, due to an overabundance of zucchini from Arthur’s farm. It makes quick work of a lot of zukes, and it makes perfectly good leftovers, too. I whipped it up last night with two big zucchinis from my CSA box, and even though I didn’t have any parsley or fresh thyme, it was great anyway. We ate it with big chunks of our toasted walnut bread. YUM! Easy, but healthy and delicious.

lemony sautéed zucchini

This recipe is a really quick way to use up a lot of zucchini! It’s a combination of 1) the flavors from the zucchini skillet cakes in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers book, and 2) a method of quick-cooking zucchini that I found in a long-ago issue of Cooks’ Illustrated. Zucchini is so full of water that it’s hard to deal with all the liquid that comes out of it—the zucchini usually gets soggy and it’s hard to make sure all the pieces are cooked evenly. So using this method, you grate the zucchini and then roll it in a dishtowel and wring out the extra water! It’s a fast and easy recipe—easier than the skillet cakes.

You can choose your topping on this recipe—use either the toasted pine nuts, toasted almonds, or the slightly more involved garlicky bread crumbs. Whatever suits your time frame and fancy!

4 medium-large zucchinis (about 3 pounds), grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
½ bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 teaspoons chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 tablespoons scallion greens
grated zest of a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup capers, rinsed and drained

choice of toppings

¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup almonds
bread crumbs:
2 slices whole wheat bread (you can use stale bread, but not dried hard)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

1. Placing a quarter or a third of the grated zucchini in a dish towel, roll the towel up around the zucchini, and, using two hands, twist the towel as tightly as you can (over the sink) and watch the water pour out! Shake the zucchini out into a large bowl, and repeat with the rest of the zucchini.
2. If you’ve chosen bread crumbs for the topping, tear the bread slices into smallish pieces and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse and grind them until they are finely ground into bread crumbs. Use 1 cup of them or more for this recipe.  Brown the bread crumbs in olive oil (with optional garlic) in a small skillet over medium heat. Remove from the heat when browned, toss in a little salt to taste, and set aside.
3. If you’ve chosen pine nuts for the topping, toast them gently in a dry skillet until golden.
4. If you’ve chosen almonds for the topping, toast them in a 350-degree oven on a baking sheet for 15 minutes.
5. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a large skillet and sauté the garlic slices until fragrant—a minute or so. Add the grated, dried zucchini and sauté until tender, about 8 or 10 minutes. You can cover the pan in between stirring to hurry this process.
6. Add the parsley, thyme, chives or scallions, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, and capers. Cook for a minute or so longer until the flavors are melded and the parsley is slightly wilted. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.
7. Serve in a large dish or on individual plates, adding the topping of your choice. Serve immediately.


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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

watermelon gin fizzes


biting off more than I can chew

Do you grind your teeth at night? I’ve done it since I was very small—I ground my baby teeth completely flat. My mom could hear me creaking and gnashing as I slept, unaware. Even though I’ve worn my night-guard faithfully every night since I was fourteen (I can’t go to sleep without it), the grinding has caused serious damage over the years. Apparently, one’s enamel can only hold up so long to such abuse.

A few weeks ago I went in for my annual dental exam, and learned that in addition to the two crowns (complete with root canals) I already possess, I’m looking at getting four more in the next few years. My teeth are splintering from decades of grinding. Now I know why my dental floss keeps breaking—the sharp edges of cracked enamel are slicing right through it.

I came home and thought about this. A lot. This seemed like an important message.

Looking back, after I quit my office job three years ago, I devoted myself to a series of projects dear to my heart: the bakery, the farmers market, the CSA, and the Alaska farmers market non-profit. But I realize I bit off more than I could chew. Maybe because I can’t seem to digest these monstrous mouthfuls during my waking hours, my sleeping body chomps and gnashes away all night, trying to masticate them into manageable morsels.

Instead, I’m just reducing my molars to rubble.

So I’m working on more effective ways to chew and swallow my outsized mouthfuls, and I’m learning how to take smaller bites in future. I’m finding the joy in letting go of projects that will be fun for others to undertake, and I’m learning to say “no thank you” to extra obligations.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to STOP grinding my teeth; after all, I’m asleep when I do it. But I’m hopeful that by slowing down and simplifying my life as much as I can, I will reduce the pressure on myself, and in turn, on my molars.

I’ve been ruminating on this post for a while now (please forgive the dental puns—I promise this is the last), and was stumped for an accompanying recipe. But then I thought of the perfect solution: refreshing and delicious Watermelon Gin Fizzes! First, they require no chewing. And second, these drinks send a clear message: “RELAX! TAKE A BREAK! STOP WORRYING!” If you aren’t into alcohol, just skip the gin—these yummy drinks are wonderful either way. Just make sure you sit down and relax when you drink yours. Sip slowly and imagine melting into your chair.

watermelon gin fizz

The idea for this drink came from an Eating Well magazine a few summers ago.

important notes:
1) You can get all the ingredients for this drink from Costco in the summertime.
2) I like to put my gin in the freezer, and everything else in the refrigerator (ginger ale, watermelon if it’ll fit, and limes). If you think of it ahead of time, you can even stick your pint glasses in the freezer.
3) You can add 1 or 2 ounces of gin, to your taste.

ingredients for 4 drinks:

half of a large (preferably seedless) watermelon
several limes
1 can ginger ale

1. Cut the watermelon in half and cut the rind off the outside with a sharp knife. (Be careful not to cut yourself—this is sort of an unwieldy process.) Cut the melon into approximately 1-inch slices, then cut the slices across so you have tall columns, about 1 inch square. (Take out the black seeds, if there are any.).  Reserve a few pieces of watermelon for garnish, if you want.
2. Put the lid on your blender, but remove the little insert in the middle of the lid (or just keep the lid off—but it will be messy).  Turn your blender on, and while it’s going, slide the strips of watermelon through the lid and pretend you have a juicer. At first, you’ll want to cover the top up with your hand so the juice doesn’t spray out, but after you’ve got several pieces in, it doesn’t make such a mess. When you’ve got a blender-full of juice, puree for about a minute, to really pulverize the pulp.  Pour the juice into a pitcher and keep going until you’ve got as much juice as you want. (You can freeze the juice for later if you want to blender the whole watermelon now and make more drinks next week.) 
3. If you kept some pieces of watermelon for garnish, cut them into cubes. 
4. Squeeze several limes to get at least ½ cup of juice.
5. You can make everything ahead up to this point.  Just make sure and put everything back in the ‘fridge until you’re ready to serve the drinks.

To make the drinks:
Put a handful of ice cubes in the bottom of a (preferably chilled) pint-sized glass. 
Add to the glass:

1/3 cup ginger ale,
2 tablespoons lime juice, and
1 to 2 oz. of gin (to your taste) in the glass. 
Fill to the top with watermelon juice.

Garnish with watermelon cubes and sip in the sunshine! 

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