Welcome Back Dessert!

It’s been a long, cold spring.  Well it certainly felt that way without the the three fires of sugar, gluten, and dairy to keep us warm.  We survived and now, we celebrate.  Albeit the celebration is still fairly sugar, gluten, and dairy-free around here.  Or at least very light on those things.  Thankfully, summer produce offers us many scrumptious dining options without much of those heavy hitters.  Peaches have arrived in Central Ohio, which obviously calls for grilling those little treats and topping them with Jeni’s Pistachio and Honey ice cream.  This Jeni’s variety is mildly sweet, allowing the caramelized, peach flavor to shine.  Oh what a glorious time of the year!  This week, our CSA grew to include 5 summer squash!  Call me excited!  It’s time for zucchini bread!

We had a few events this weekend that called for just such a dessert.  Gaining inspiration from David Lebovitz, I tired a gluten-free  and lower sugar version of his Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze.

First for the gluten-free flour mix.  I ran across this recipe in the NYT recently and have used it for waffles, pancakes, pumpkin bread, and zucchini bread.  It seems to be up to most typical glutenous challenges.  The cornmeal and oat flour offers this blend a nice texture that I have appreciated in my cooking so far.  You may want consider texture when deciding how to best develop your flour blend.  The NYT article further suggests that a ratio of 70% grain and/or nut flours and 30% starches will yield the best blend.  The grain/nut flours include rice, cornmeal, sorghum, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, garbanzo, or almond.  The starches include potato, tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch.  With all those options, the combinations seem endless.  As always, I say it’s time to play!  Stop worrying about following recipes and have fun.  Your stomach will likely thank you in the end!

So, using this gluten-free flour blend, I made a zucchini cake.  Here’s what I did.

First, oil and flour (use the GF flour) 2 bread pans, 2 round cake pans, or a bunt cake pan.  Chop 1c of toasted almonds, walnuts, or pecans (I used almonds for my cake).  Grate 2 1/2 cups of zucchini or other summer squash.  I did this by hand, but a food processor would do just fine.  I often find that grating squash leads to lots of liquid.  I say keep it and make sure it gets in your batter.  That is the stuff of gooey, moistness.  In fact, I have been known to freeze shredded squash for winter baking.  The defrosted squash usually has a good layer of liquid that separates.  KEEP IT!

Ok, rant complete.  Now on with dessert.  Next I sifted together the dry ingredients:  2c GF flour, 1t baking powder, 1/2t baking soda, 1t salt, 2t cinnamon, 1t ground ginger, and 1/2t nutmeg.  In a separate mixing bowl, I creamed 3 room temperature eggs (if you want to go egg-free/vegan, use 3T ground flax and 1/2-3/4c water) with 1 1/2c sugar and 1c safflower oil.    I beat these together for about 3 minutes on a medium setting.  I added 2t of vanilla and began to slowly add the dry ingredients until they were all well incorporated and mixed an additional 30seconds.  Stir in the nuts and zucchini.  Spread into your pan(s).  I made 2 bread pan-sized loafs and they baked for 50 minutes at 350.  I began checking them at 40 minutes, if you opt to make a 2 cake pans, you may want to check fairly early also.  When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, pull the pans out and let them cool for about 10 minutes.  I would suggest you place a cookie sheet or some foil under your cooling rack to collect the best part of this recipe.  The glaze!

Remove the cakes from the pan and mix together 1/4c freshly squeezed lemon juice (this was about one lemon for me), 1/3c granulated sugar (that’s the regular stuff), and 1c powdered sugar.  Mix until well incorporatedand brush over the top of the cake, allowing it to run gently down the sides.  Allow your cake too cool at least until the glaze has hardened.  The crunchy exterior is the best part!  The lemony glaze is so bright and vibrant!  It really makes this cake sing!

Serve on your patio to your friends/neighbors/[family members] while watching your dog attack the neighbor’s boxer puppy.  Smile.  That’s summer.

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We May Have Overeaten…

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”   ~Erma Bombeck

Yes, I know that the fourth of July is a faint memory as summer’s time whizzes by.  But I ran across this quote somewhere and couldn’t help feeling that it summarized my last week so completely that I had to share it with you readers.  Our Monday was a day filled with some of my favorite things; dogs, children, friends, neighbors, and food.  Have I mentioned lately how fortunate we are to be surrounded by awesome people?  A random conversation one day suggesting a cookout soon turned into a gathering of old and new friends, two- and four-legged family members, laughter, culinary treats, games, smiling, sparklers, beer, and happiness.  We may have overeaten, but celebrating my community is a pretty good way to commemorate the fourth.  Here’s evidence of the event.

think it is safe to say that all enjoyed the day.  I mean, what’s not to love?  My friends are fabulous cooks.  The dogs children are always well-behaved.    And the conversation always ripples through, punctuated by laughter.  A good evening, ended with a walk to the Park of Roses to watch Clintonville’s firework display.  The Philosopher ended up with a wide-eyed 5-year-old in his lap.  I don’t know if the flies died from happiness, but I suspect few faces fell asleep without a smile on their lips.

Tuesday’s CSA pick up was an exciting event as summer squash had arrived.  I received another huge head of lettuce, a bunch of beets, kale, a kohlrabi (with leaves), 2 yellow squash, and one zucchini.  While my own plants are beginning to show signs of life, it’s nice to be able to trust the Sippel’s to keep my refrigerator packed.  I recently rediscovered cornmeal in my house.  Since our detox diet eliminated corn, I had buried my supply deep in the recesses of my basement.  I recently unearthed many lovely treasures and found them loving homes on my kitchen shelves again.  The zucchini was calling for polenta.  I just knew it.  I made two 8″ round (but square pans would work well also) of polenta and popped them in the fridge around lunchtime.  At dinner, I heated them in a large skillet lined generously with oil.  I sauteed an onion and a few cloves of garlic in a separate skillet until the onions were soft and added the zucchini, cut into 1″ pieces, and a large can of crushed tomatoes.  (Just think, my time of canned tomatoes is nearly reaching it’s end!)  I also added fresh basil and oregano from my garden, red pepper flakes for some heat, kosher salt, and a bit of agave for some sweetness.  When the zucchini had begun to soften, the polenta was golden brown.  After topping a piece of polenta with the veggies and adding a sprinkling of basil on top, the season’s first zucchini reached my lips.  Welcome summer!  In your kitchen, feel free to make the polenta the night before and keep it in the fridge until it’s time to make dinner.  You can also simply put the pans in the oven or under the broiler.  I suggest spraying or brushing the top with oil so the top browns nicely.  It will likely take about the same amount of time, but if you are like me, you are staying far away from the oven these days!

The week ended with the lovely celebration of my nephew and father-in-law’s birthday.  Again, the afternoon was filled with the excited sounds of children; on bicycles, helping to open presents, and enjoying a story together.  My brother-in-law who is stationed in Las Vegas in the air force had arrived the day before to surprise his parents and attend a friend’s wedding.  A few hours in the sunshine with important loved ones strengthened the bonds and commitment of this caring family.  I couldn’t help snapping a few shots to help the birthday boy remember how his birth caused such celebration three years later.

Few occasions aren’t improved by a dinosaur cake and the gift of a sword.  As the long-distance aunt, it’s amazing to see the transformation of my niece and nephew into little people, with their own unique personalities.  Each visit, each year, each celebration shows a little more of them.  Who they will be, what the will become.  It’s a great honor to be a part of such a magnificent process.

And the remains of our CSA found a good home at another fabulous evening as last night we gathered with fellow CSA friends and other members of our extended Clintonville circle to enjoy a delicious meal.  I had the kohlrabi, beet greens, and lettuce remaining from our share this week.  If you are not familiar with kohlrabi, don’t be alarmed.  I think my neighbor said it best when she asked something like, “Who would have ever looked at that thing and thought to themselves, ‘I should eat that’?”  Well, I don’t know who that person was, but I gladly accepted the fruit of their ingenuity.  I found this recipe on Epicurious and thought it was a perfect use of my leftovers.  I made some changes, obviously.  I didn’t have the kale, so I used the kohlrabi greens and my beet greens.  I also felt it need a little more crunch than my one kohlrabi could offer, so I added the better part of my head of lettuce.  Finally, I used sunflower seeds as they were already in my cupboard.  It was a perfect side dish to the falafel, tzatziki sauce, and french bread made by our hosts and was followed by a lovely banana cream pie.  What a great way to share in our kitchen skills and produce.  Eating with friends makes everything taste a little bit better!  A nice balance of texture, punch of lime juice, and garlicky goodness made this a pleasant summer salad.  Don’t have an alien-like kohlrabi laying around? I would try this again using a small head of cabbage, I think it would still be lovely.

I hope your week was filled with a form of patriotism that makes you proud.  Proud to be a citizen.  Proud to meet and mingle with all those other citizens.  Proud of the good feelings you get when we come together.  Proud to serve as both leaders and servants in the rest of the world.  Proud to learn from other nations forging new paths forward.  Proud of your own families, friends, neighbors, and communities.  We may have overeaten, but we truly found a way to honor the occasion.

Inaugurating a New Kitchen

Hello friends… I haven’t posted in a while, partially because I am the delinquent child in this blog relationship.  But also because in the last month or so I have picked up all of my belongings and carried them to a new home.  I’m still in the city of Chicago, but I’m now inhabiting a place with a spacious kitchen.  This is a huge relief and something I was looking forward to as soon as I set foot in my previous apartment.  I tried not to complain about it too much, but I had a galley kitchen with basically no counter space to speak of.  It was a hallway leading to what should have been an actual kitchen.  Sigh.

Now, however, I have a lovely kitchen with lots of space to cook.  It’s beautiful.  Another new thing that’s begun recently is a CSA I’m sharing with a friend of mine.  As I’m sure most of our readers know, this spring was unusually cold, so a lot of the yield thus far has been in the way of lettuce.  It’s weird to have so many different types of lettuce just kicking around.  I’m not a huge lettuce eater, but I obviously eat it more when it’s being delivered to me on a weekly basis.  We are starting to see a transition out of all lettuce and into heartier stuff, such as snow peas, turnips, green beans and cucumbers.

Not that cucumbers are hearty.  We were really hoping for a lot of dark leafy greens, and really I chose this CSA because they promised kale.  I wanted a bunch of kale every week, at least, if not 2-3 varieties.  Alas, we work with what we’re given, the motto of CSA subscribers everywhere.  Luckily, turnips mean turnip greens, which aren’t kale, per say, but are nice sauteed and are good for nutrients.  For a quick dinner, I sauteed turnip greens in olive oil and salt, laid them over some polenta and fried up a chicken sausage for the side.  I also roasted turnips, garlic scapes, onions and a non-CSA sweet potato in the over with garlic and herbs until the veggies were soft and munched on it quite happily.

Sweet potatoes tend to sneak their way into a lot of impromptu meals, but one situation in which I’ve found them particularly useful is in the creation of frittatas.  I posted before (as part of the donut post) about a frittata I made back in March. I used a recipe then, but decided this time that it wasn’t even necessary.  There are two tricks to a delicious frittata I have learned in my experiments.  Browning thinly sliced potatoes in the pan (sweet or otherwise) and leaving them there as a crust adds a good foundation to the dish.  When you bite into it, you get the eggs and cheese and fillers on top, and then there is that constant golden brown potato in every bite.  Very satisfying.  Sweet potatoes are my choice because not only is it golden brown, it’s also a little creamy and sweet to boot.  Who is turning down golden brown, crispy, creamy sweet vegetables?  Not me.

The other trick, or it might be essential depending on how technical you are being about your frittatas, is to finish it off in the oven.  For this you will need a pan that can be put in the over.  Generally, these are anodized and don’t have plastic on their handles.  So when you finish the frittata on the stove, usually by adding a generous layer of cheese, you can just pop the whole thing in the oven to brown on top.  The only truly aggravating thing about creating frittata is that it takes a long time.  To slice the thin potatoes, to brown the potatoes, to prep and sautee the other veggies, to mix the eggs, to get the whole thing together on the stove and then to brown it in the oven takes some serious cooking time. However, I have found the process to be worth it, 100%, each time I have concocted a frittata.

Something I did this time, was take the frittata and flip it onto my large wooden cutting board to cut it.  This saved the integrity of my pan a little, made sort of an interesting serving dish, and made me feel pretty skilled for being able to deftly flip a large pan full of food onto another surface without destroying it.  My roommate was impressed anyways.

In other non-frittata related news, I recently discovered a way of making my gluten, yeast, dairy, egg free BFF a real chocolate cake.   This is how it went down.  I said I would have her and her boyfriend over for dinner.  Knowing the constraints this would put on my menu choices, I chose pork roast, roasted root veggies, and corn on the cob (something I know she likes).  We were talking online day of and she was lamenting about how she would never be able to eat real cake again, and it struck me that my mother had made eggless cakes for our family growing up all the time, because my father was allergic.  It was called a screwball cake, probably because the recipe sounds kind of crazy.  Since GF folks are pretty numerous and pretty vocal, there are some decent GF baking flours on the market.  So I picked up a bag of GF baking flour, and I baked her a cake.  So, for those of you who battle dietary restrictions including, gluten, dairy, yeast, and/or egg, here is a recipe for you to have your cake and eat it.  All of it.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Mix 3c flour (GF if necessary), 2c sugar, 1/2c cocoa, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.  You might need to sift the mixture together, as GF flour likes to clump a little more than wheat flour.  Once it’s all combined, you make three holes in the mix.  (Nothing fancy, just dig out three holes equidistant from each other.)  In one hole, put 2tsp baking soda, in the next hole put 2tsp white vinegar, and in hole #3, put 1c oil (it’s not all going to fit in the hole, relax.  This deviates from the recipe a little, but I throw a little vanilla in at this point too, with the oil, or before the oil in hole three.  Then you pour 2 cups cold water over the top of everything, and mix it all together.  Pour into a 9×13 ungreased pan and bake for 45 mines.  Voila, gluten free, egg free, dairy free, yeast free cake!  I made a topping with powdered sugar, almond milk, and cocoa to pour over the top.  It was a hit with my friends for sure.

Garlic Scape Pesto Times Two

I have been back from the UK and still feel unprepared to write about the trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed the time with new and old friends.  I saw amazing sites and took some pretty good photos.  I ate a lot of potatoes and fish and pork [gasp!].  The trip was the perfect balance of sight-seeing and relaxing.  Look forward to some words about the UK shortly, but for now I must move on to other timely topics.

Week 6 of our CSA offered this beautiful bounty.  In the back is another huge head of lettuce.  The lettuce this year has often been larger than my head, requiring only a leaf or two for a side salad.  Fresh and crisp.  Delish.  Moving forward, is some beautiful rainbow swiss chard which was turned into a caramelized onion and chard fritatta for breakfast with yoga friends yesterday morning.  A bunch of beets are near the front.  The greens were braised in stock, shallots, and garlic and served with the roasted beets as a side dish one evening.  A few sprigs of basil are tucked in the front.  They served as back up to the main stars of this week.  See those curly garlic scapes in there?  They were one of my favorite CSA arrivals last year and I have eagerly awaited their return this year.  Here’s a shot of them up close.   My understanding is that cutting the tops, or scapes, from the garlic root, encourages growth.  I am happy to foresee gorgeous heads of garlic in my summer and fall shares and enjoy the more gentle flavor of scapes today.  Last year, I discovered garlic scape pesto.  This week, I made a batch with the fresh basil, scapes, cashews, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

As with many things, pesto-making requires no formal recipe.  Each batch should be as unique as the individual mixing it up.  I put about 6 garlic scapes, 15 leaves of basil, 1/3c of cashews, a dash of salt and pepper in the food processor.  I drizzled in olive oil until an aromatically lovely sauce formed.  After tasting, I realized I had quite a garlicy pesto.  I decided that a gentle heating would help cut some of the spicy garlic flavor.

For the first night, I baked slabs of tofu in the oven.  You could pay fry them on the stovetop, but I was roasting beets at the same time and when the summer temperatures rise, I try to use the oven as little as possible and to maximize the energy expenditure when I do turn the dial on.  I popped tofu slices in an oiled baking pan at 400 degrees.  After 10 minutes or so, I flipped the slices and browned on the other side.  I topped the slices with a dab of pesto and popped back in the oven for an additional few minutes.  The additional heat was perfect.  The pesto was still fresh and clean, but the bite of the raw garlic was tempered.  It was a lovely main dish.  I suspect roasted or grilled chicken or fish would be lovely this way.  Try it and let me know!

Later that week, I made gluten-free pasta and tossed it quickly in a warm pan with the rest of the pesto.  The second meal was lovely.  Fresh like a warm spring June evening.  A fresh salad, glass or two of pinot grigio, and the conversation of friends is the perfect way to compliment this meal.

As our tomato and pepper plants are hanging heavily with future meal prospects, we eagerly await Tuesday’s CSA share.  Zucchini and yellow squash should arrive soon, right?  How are you enjoying the fresh produce of the season?

Time for a Journey

I would love to tell you about the lovely cooking that has been going on in my kitchen, but this pile suggests where my time and energy has been focused for the last week or so.  It’s funny, I kept saying, “As soon as I finish my culminating project, I will have a ton of free time.”  Hmm.  Maybe not.  Mid-May arrived, my project was completed, reviewed and stamped with those approval marks that stressed me out for months.  But somehow my free time never arrived.  Of course, I still had two classes.  So then I said, “As soon as I get these projects done, I will take time to breathe!”  Again, projects were submitted early, grades were posted and I found myself still spinning through my days.  As my graduate school commencement is now less than 24 hours away, you would expect me to be blogging the words of freedom and relaxation.  Instead, I am running about, seeing dear friends from out of town, washing clothes, buying last minute items, applying for just one more job, running.  Running.  Running.  But all is good.  The running will end shortly and I will happily find myself running to the airport to catch a flight to London.  The Philosopher and I have been saving pennies for two years and now for the opportunity to travel for our “honeymoon”.  We planned this trip quickly and I still can’t completely report our itinerary.  We are meeting more dear friends across the pond for some time sightseeing in the city and relaxing in a cottage in Wales.  Please, don’t feel sorry for me.  While the burden of drinking a cup of coffee on our balcony overlooking the mountains will be difficult, I will try to find a way to enjoy myself.  Afternoons hiking the countryside will be taxing, but I am certain I will pull through.  Seeing old friends and meeting new ones will inevitably leave me talking all night long, but I will survive.  Somehow.  I hope to have some wonderful pictures and stories to share when I return.

In the meantime,  I promised to share CSA news every week.  Here are some lovely pictures of some of this week’s goodness.  We received carrots, green onions, salad greens, leaf lettuce, and kale this week.  The recipe of the week for the CSA could be titled “The Five Thousand and Fifteenth Thing to Do with Kale”.  But let’s just call it lovely.

Kale with Indian Spices

In a deep skillet or wok heat oil and gently warm minced garlic and 1/2t mustard seeds until the seeds begin to pop.  Add 1T turmeric, 1T ground coriander, 1/4t cayenne (more or less to taste), 1T cumin., and a few pinches of garam masala.  Warm the spices until fragrant.  Add a large bunch of kale cut into 1-2″ pieces.  Add one small can of crushed tomatoes (I added one half of a large can) or use a few fresh tomatoes and one can of coconut milk.  Cook until thickened over medium-low heat (about 5-10 minutes) and serve over quinoa or rice.  I added chopped fresh green onions to the top.  This is an absolutely lovely way to eat kale.  Warming, yet refreshing.  Add a can of  garbanzo beans or some fried tofu to make it a one pot meal.

I wish everyone a lovely couple of weeks.  There will likely be no update until I return to The Bus as I plan to leave technology on this side of the pond.  Enjoy yourselves and eat well!

Ohio Means Organics, Too

Ohio eaters,  I have important news.  The Kasich administration has adopted a new slogan for the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA): Ohio Means Agribusiness.  This decision, combined with the elimination of the Office of Sustainable Agriculture, concerns me as an Ohio eater, and a supporter of organic and local farmers*.  Kasich has also reduced staff in Ohio Proud, Farmers’ Market Coordination, and the Office of Farmland Preservation at the ODA.  All of these programs have contributed to the growing organic and local food movement in Ohio and the loss of resources could negatively impact the farmers whose long hours and commitment to their farms and businesses feed my family throughout the growing season.

I am no economist.  I do not claim to understand the workings of the global market and cannot apply those trends to Ohio.  I can report that organic farming has been been one of the fastest growing segments in agriculture for the last ten years.  Total U.S. food sales grew by less than 1% in 2010, the organic food industry grew by 7.7%. The United States offers us the freedom to make economic votes with our dollars.  I am speaking.  So are many others.  Ohio has 503 certified organic farming businesses and many more that are not certified.  Ohio has more than 200 farmers’ markets statewide which allow farmers the opportunity to directly market their goods to consumers, receiving a greater profit than selling wholesale or retail.  Furthermore, farmers’ markets are great opportunities for local businesses:  Clintonville’s Farmers’ Market increases the foot traffic at independent retailers on High Street, keeping the resources in our local economy.  My Saturday morning often begins with a cup of Global Gallery’s coffee, followed by samples at the various stalls.  I often find myself wandering through the bookstores making purchases for upcoming birthdays.  A trip to Baer Wheels generally tunes up my ride.  My bags overflow with my CSA share and a few block of cheese, loaves of bread, pints of fresh fruit.  Rarely is a Saturday complete without spending an hour or two in my community seeing the fruits of the local labors.  Conversations with old and new friends are held on sidewalks with children and dogs circling our legs.  Laughter fills the air.  Smiles appear on every face.  The sound of local musicians weave through our chatter.  No one can stay grumpy at the farmers’ market for long.

I am not an expert on agribusiness and I am not pretending that it is not important to ensure that we grow enough food to feed all our citizens.  I do know a little something about local businesses.  I am pretty sure that while locally-owned shops, farms, markets, and restaurants make a smaller impact on the state economy, the impact is still present and important.  As I have discussed before, our decision to purchase a CSA share was about more than filling our stomachs and freezer.  Our annual purchase is a deliberate decision to support farmers who are neighbors in many senses of the word.

So today I want to speak out for the economic impact small farm business is making.  I know that political decisions are challenging.  I understand the need to create jobs.  I also challenge my readers to hold your politicians accountable.  Losing our independent sellers loses jobs.  I am hopeful that Ohio’s economy will continue to grow, but am challenged by policies that seems to stifle growth in one area while focusing on the other.  Sustainable agriculture is just that.  Sustainable.  My farmers are committed to practices that do not pollute local waterways, poison the land, or harm the environment.  Their practices ensure a long future of farming in Ohio, one I am proud to support.

Unfortunately, the Kasich administration is taking away needed support to allow local farmers to deliver my produce to me.  By focusing the ODA on agribusiness, it will get harder for citizens to continue to vote for the small farmer with their dollars.

If you are able, please consider what you can do to ensure that Ohio’s small farmers continue to be supported.  Write a letter.  Do some research.  Talk to your neighbor.  Go to a farmers’ market.

*All statistics were provided by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.