Celebrating in both spaces

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Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

Like all holidays past, and all holidays future, there are other thoughts racing around in the back of our heads beyond whether or not the turkey will taste good and the pies will turn out. We miss loved ones. We ache for relationships to be healed. We want the children to stop pestering each other. We long for patience and wisdom.

Sunday morning brought news of my parents’ decades long neighbor passing away. Though her death was expected, I am never ready for the wave of grief that inevitably crashes into me as the words are spoken, and this time was no different. I sobbed, first to my mom on the phone and later in my bedroom while the boys played. It’s an odd experience to cry loudly while your kids are laughing and tearing apart the house. They were completely oblivious to my sounds. This isn’t too surprising since I could probably walk past them naked wearing a Frankenstein mask and they also wouldn’t notice if they were fully engrossed in their play, but it’s still strange to experience.

Once I calmed, all I wanted was to recount the stories. There are many, starting with my birth. Louise’s oldest daughter and I share the same birthday, a decade apart. My brother, nearly nine years older than me, spent the night with a swarm of ten-year-old girls at a birthday party while Mom labored and delivered. (I don’t know whether or not he enjoyed the party scene, but I like that it happened on account of me. My earliest successful attempt to mess with a sibling.) Several years later Louise baked me my favorite birthday cake- heart’s desire of every little girl of the 80s: the kind with the doll awkwardly sticking out of the middle of the cake while wearing a giant, impossible-to-walk-in dress, of course!

Louise lived across the street from me during my entire childhood, and she loved to garden. These two things ensured that our paths crossed frequently. Nearly every morning and afternoon of elementary school, as I hopped on and off the school bus, I’d look for her cats. Talkative, snuggly Cookie would cross the street, waiting with me in the morning and walking me partway home in the afternoon. Sugar or Pepper (I can’t remember which- they owned a lot of cats over the years and their food names always confused me) would wait in their yard, knowing I’d eventually come scratch behind her ears. If the cats weren’t outside, I’d inevitably ask my mom if I could go visit. I was always welcomed inside.

Routine, everyday encounters were the norm, but there were exceptional moments, too. One winter evening, a friend’s mom dropped me off at home after a dance recital. My mom and sister stayed for performances later that evening, but I was only six years old, exhausted and ready for bed. The woman didn’t wait to see if I got in, driving away before I even reached my front door. I stood knocking and ringing the bell, increasingly scared and lonely. The house was dark. The porch light wasn’t even on. The bushes grew big enough for people to be hiding behind. The night grew colder and darker. The wind hissed. My dad and brother were supposed to be home.

I was so young that I’m not sure if I’d even crossed the street by myself yet. I clearly remember being terrified to do it,  especially in the dark, but I knew where I wanted to go. Their porch light was on. The cats would be inside, too. I was even happy knowing that I could peek at the little world inside their enormous terrarium, which I found both odd and amazing. I remember my run across the street vividly, though more like I recently dreamt it than that it really happened. My heart pounded as I rang their doorbell. (I vaguely remember also feeling nervous about bothering them late at night or waking them up. It was probably 8pm.) A warm blanket of comfort covered me as the door opened and my neighbor took me in.

Both of the neighborhood women that nurtured me in special ways are now gone. There were countless simple, beautiful acts that only thoughtful neighbors can do: daily greetings, inviting me in for tea or kitty-cat petting, running little treats outside because I was spotted passing by. These women were present for my family during our most challenging and celebratory moments, too. They threw parties, brought food, gave hugs and ran errands. Their presence made our surrounding neighborhood pretty close to the elusive village “it takes” to raise kids.

The holidays have always felt hard to face when grief is fresh, but I’m realizing part of that is because I bought into a lie. For too long, I equated thankfulness with smiling and good cheer and felt like I’d somehow ruin a holiday if I was sad. So, I wore my emotions tightly, holding myself in a protective stance that didn’t allow for either extreme to be expressed. Finally, I begin to make room at the table for tears. What could be a more pure reflection of love shared and missed? And, of course, I set a place for joy. We would experience a different sort of grief without the warm memories of playing, dancing, laughing and telling stories. Without those elements, our grief might actually be regret. This year, I’m beginning to see how I can hold both joy and sorrow in my heart during the holidays. It starts with making space at the table.

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Podcasts and pumpkins

While chopping, whisking flours or sorting laundry, I frequently listen to podcasts. The one requirement: I must be alone. Otherwise I’m forced to pause and rewind twenty times within a five minute window to compensate for the surrounding monkey noises. That gets awkward with beet juice or batter on my hands. Either way, between the shows, siamang calls, and our recent subscription to Rdio, I’m taken care of in the background noise department. Speaking of which, have you heard this song? It came on randomly for my husband, stopping him in his tracks. We keep listening on repeat. Take a break and let it wash over you.

Oddly enough, the music or program of choice keeps coinciding with my task. “Beat It” popped on while I chopped roasted beets. I danced in my apron in the kitchen, waving my red-stained hand like it wore a white glove. While preparing this pumpkin bread, which made my entire house smell like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the next-in-line show from Molly and Matt’s hilarious Spilled Milk post was, whaddaya know, pumpkin spice! I guess I should stay away from podcasts and songs about knife injuries. Or burning kitchens.

Back to the pumpkin. I never imagined that anyone familiar with Seattle’s amazing coffee offerings would convince me to try a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL?!!!) at Starbucks, but they did. Plus, they provided consolation that I’m not alone in my dislike of pumpkin pie. Lastly, and most importantly to me at the time, they enjoy pumpkin bread. It would’ve been a teensy bit discouraging to be in the midst of preparing this with intentions to share here while simultaneously wondering if my offering was detested by a majority.

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Our vegetable farmers provided CSA members with THREE (!!!) Winter Luxury pumpkins this year because the unusually sunny, warm summer weather made for fruitful squash. I was thrilled by the abundance. I’ve roasted all and thus far we’ve consumed pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin risotto. Thanksgiving will involve me trying my best to share the caramel pumpkin cheesecake.

Roasting whole pumpkins is amazingly simple. Stab the pumpkin a few times with a knife. (I forgot to do this for 1/3. It turned out ok, but needed longer and I had to poke holes anyway. I may have been lucky.) Bake it for an hour at 300-325℉, or until you can poke through the skin with a fork. Once it’s cool, the skin peels off with tremendous ease, the seeds scoop out in a few swoops, and the flesh can be frozen in containers sized for the job or used within a few days. It comes out so tender and moist that it’s already a puree- no blending and very little mashing required.

Is fresh pumpkin tastier? Many argue that it’s up for debate. I surmise it depends on the squash. Winter Luxury pumpkins receive a lot of fan mail. I’ve seen their overflowing mailboxes. Apparently, butternut squash is also favored for pumpkin breads and pies. I have yet to try, but I’m intrigued. Just don’t bother roasting your average Halloween pumpkin. You’re much better off with canned. (Plus, it’s probably moldy by now.)

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This pumpkin bread is velvety, tender and has bit of a crunch from the crust. I generally prefer sweetened breads to be smooth, so I stray from nuts, raisins, etc… in the batter. Streusel and crunchy toppings are different matter, though. Bring ‘em on.

Regardless of your stance on “pumpkin spice”, you have some control here. You can tone things down if you’re not a huge fan. (In this case, I would recommend leaving the cinnamon as is, reducing the nutmeg and eliminating the cloves.) I find it strong but balanced. My boys LOVE it as is, and as trusty as their palates may be, I share that here because they would probably reject it if it were more heavy handed. In fact, I just pulled out a jar to thaw so I can make another loaf because Charlie thanked me THREE times for sending him a cream cheese slathered piece in his lunch yesterday. “It was just delicious, Mom.”

I am not sure how I acquired this recipe. I’ve been making versions of it for years, before I even read food blogs, and all I have is a printed paper. I’m sharing the version that I lean towards most often. I bake it in a loaf pan and as muffins. I add up to a third of whole grain flours by keeping the weight the same, I change the ratio of oils by keeping the volume stable. All of these experiments have worked. So, if whoever led me to this recipe is out there and reading this, Thank You! It’s survived a lot of recipe culling. It’s the slice of pumpkin I want at the table.

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Pumpkin Bread

From someone who may or may not identify themselves, who adapted it from Tartine. Makes one 9×5 inch loaf, two 8×3 inch loaves, or 12 muffins.

  • 225 g (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 255 g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) pumpkin puree (I’ve used as much as 300g without problems. It just needed to bake a little longer.)
  • 200 g (1 cup) coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (I typically use about 1/2 cup of each. You can use 1 cup of just one oil. I prefer the combo.)
  • 270 g (1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar (though granulated is ok)

Preheat oven to 325℉ / 160℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter pans or line them with muffin cups or parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the oils, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, and salt until they are completely combined. Add each egg individually, whisking until it’s fully incorporated prior adding the next. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring with a gentle hand until just combined. To help it mix evenly, scrape down the sides occasionally.

Place the batter in your pan(s) of choice. Smooth the surface by rapping the pan on the counter, as needed. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the batter. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, the 8X3 loaf pans for 44-48 minutes, or the 9×5 loaf pan for 60-65 minutes. (Always check them with a tester to ensure they’re cooked. If there’s still wet batter on the tester, throw the pan back in the oven for a few more minutes.)

Let cool in the pan for 10-minutes, then unmold and cool completely on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Want to gild the lily? Take a note from Renee Erickson’s zucchini bread recipe and fry the slices in some butter first, serving them up with a dollop of creme fraiche. The bread is also quite nice topped with cream cheese. I bet a lightly sweetened sour cream would be delicious, too. Why not ice cream? Or whipped cream? Just like pie, but better.

 

 

Celebrating her

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The airport was still within sight, landing planes roaring above us as we headed home after dropping off my mom. Miles asked, “Mama, when is grandma coming back?” Simultaneously warming my heart and turning me into a puddle, my boy missed my mom. He fell in love with his grandma during her visit.

They held hands a lot. He touched her warm, soft winter coat and complimented it (prior to asking if he could have it). He told her how much he liked her smooth, leather gloves.

They read piles of books together, too. Sometimes side by side, but usually snuggled up.

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He told her everything. From the minute we picked her up to the minute she left, he did not miss a chance to chat. “Grandma, guess what? Um-uh, I have 36 Pokemon cards! And uh, guess what? Pokemon starts with “P”!  Puh, puh, Pokemon!”

Charlie, equally pleased to see her but less of a chatterbox these days, spent hours playing Monopoly and making Spirograph flowers with her. (Remember those?) He can read his own books these days, but he never missed a chance to sit by her side.

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When my counselor asked me what I hoped for with my mom’s visit, I shared my desire to play and laugh a lot together. I didn’t want to squander our time. From the simplicity of working together in the kitchen to prepare food for our weekend, to the marvel of soaking in stunning views from beaches and the Needle, to the joyous yells of surprise while watching chum salmon jump waterfalls in Piper’s Creek. My hopes were met, even exceeded.

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Lately I’ve felt a profound gratitude for my Mom that I can feel in my core. WIth many friends in crisis, I am acutely aware of how fleeting life is, how quickly circumstances shift, how preciously we should hold the beautiful moments. My mom is a great treasure in my life. With each passing year it is more evident how beloved she is by my boys, too. She knows how to connect. She plays games with them for hours, listens patiently to their (often painfully) long stories, delights in their journeys, and encourages them in their struggles. It’s her birthday, but we got the gift.

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A case in point

I would put money on Brussels sprouts being the most hated vegetable among my generation. Too many of us were served them steamed to oblivion without an ounce of fat, grain of salt, or drop of acid to help them along. Because of that long history of disappointment, this is a great vegetable to experience after the transforming powers of roasting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If bacon is a gateway food for you, start there. There’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. I enjoy them roasted with balsamic, too. And, of course, let’s not forget about them with aged gouda and sriracha.

I’ve written in detail about Brussels sprouts before and this probably won’t be the last time, either. Having an arsenal of ten to twenty great brussel sprout recipes is not unreasonable, right? Maybe this blog should be called Brussels Sprouts and Baking. Anyways, I like them raw, shaved into salads, but I adore them caramelized from roasting so much that I would’ve eaten the entire pan last night if Harry didn’t object. Just don’t give them to me mushy and steamed.

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Our last CSA pick-up was a double. Two weeks of vegetables on our counter!

I didn’t set out to share this recipe here, but once I tasted them and groaned with delight, I snapped a few shots knowing what I needed to do. The one of the stalk was taken for my Instagram friends. I’m weirder and sillier there. (More myself- I’ll get there here, too. Baby steps.) I happen to post shots of vegetables in front of my face somewhat regularly, so this was sent out prior to knowing I’d share the recipe. Now, you too, can see what Brussel sprouts look like before they’re detached! (They have big leaves that stick out all around, too.)

This preparation presents the sprouts a bit brighter, and certainly a tad brinier. It would make an excellent Thanksgiving side, but also can stand alone nicely as a meal by itself. Throw an egg on it, poached or fried, and let that runny yolk add an extra saucy element. (The browned butter mixture can certainly be left off of kids’ portions. My boys aren’t huge fans of capers and although they ate a few bites, I think they would’ve eaten more without the sauce.)

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The recipe comes from the queen of roasting and braising, Molly Stevens. Have you seen her James Beard award-winning books, All About Roasting and All About Braising? I don’t own them, but I check both out at least three to four times a year from the library. When I recommend savory cookbooks to new cooks, these top the list. She is an excellent teacher and clearly shares the rationale behind the techniques, helping novices feel comfortable along the way. Her recipes are tried and true, approachable and delicious. That braised cabbage I can’t get enough of? Hers. Our Thanksgiving roast last year was from her, as well. She’s the first chef I go to when I want to cook a huge, expensive chunk of meat but am scared.

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♬ These are a few of my favorite things! ♫

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers and Lemony Browned Butter

From Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, yellow or brown
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 425℉ with a rack positioned in the center. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or just scrub later).

Cut the Brussels sprouts into halves or quarters to make for bite-size pieces. Place them in a large bowl to toss with the olive oil, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Arrange the coated sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet. (You don’t want them crowded because they’ll steam instead of caramelizing.) If some leaves fall off that’s fine; leave them to roast, as well.

Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice to encourage even cooking. They should be tender throughout and nicely browned.

To make the browned butter, melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan (smaller than 6-inches across so that it doesn’t burn). Once it’s melted, add the mustard seeds, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the butter foams and turns golden brown. This will only take about 2-minutes, so watch carefully and swirl the pan frequently to prevent it from burning. Next, add the capers and lemon juice, removing the pan from the heat immediately. They’ll sizzle! Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm until the sprouts are out of the oven. (The butter process took about five minutes. It could be started towards the end of the roasting period.)

Serve the sprouts after tossing them together with the browned butter mixture. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

 

 

Like a drug dealer, but different

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As I watched Charlie willingly eat kale and pear, both foods he adamantly DOES NOT LIKE, I realized I haven’t shared this trick with you! My favorite method of encouraging the boys to continue trying blacklisted foods is to provide “gateway” foods. You know, like gateway drugs, except with a healthy outcome.

I happily dish up all sorts of gateway foods to promote flavors and textures most challenging to them. Charlie ate his kale salad and pear slices because they were paired with blue cheese. (I know. It’s nutty. Blue cheese isn’t challenging to him yet pears make him wince.) He’ll eat just about anything with blue cheese and I don’t see why he shouldn’t sprinkle some on his dinner.

If I make kale chips after a month or two break, I mix in a tablespoon of brown sugar with the olive oil and salt. The sweetness always gets them over their initial hesitation. In fact, I forgot to put any sweetener on our last batch and it’s been sitting around for a few weeks, waiting to be composted. Frankly, I don’t want to eat them either.  Just a sprinkling, and we would have demolished a hefty amount of kale in one day.

Same thing with smoothies. If I’m going to use greens and haven’t done so in a long time, I make sure they’re 1) hidden by blueberries or plums because sometimes the boys will turn their noses up at the very hint of the color green in a drink, and 2) sweetened more than usual (adding honey, instead of just relying on the natural sweetness of the fruit).

Historically, our most successful gateway foods have been butter, cheese (grated, sauces, sprinkled, sliced) and balsamic vinegar. For several years, both boys would eat just about any vegetable we gave them if they could dip it in balsamic. Vegetable dips, bean dips- including hummus, sweeter chutneys and sour cream dips sometimes do the trick, too. Ketchup almost always works for roasted root vegetables, of course. They learned that one from the french fry dealers.

I’m absolutely a food pusher. I don’t care one bit that it requires extra fat, salt and sometimes sugar for them to keep tasting. Fat and salt should be embraced with our fresh vegetables! I will sing that song until I die. In the meantime, pass the butter, please.

On trust

In the comfort of his home, within sight of his Mama and Papa, his confidence and abilities shone. He wasn’t even two, but he used complete sentences to convey the utmost importance of the airplanes flying by, the blue cheese he craved and the trucks he needed to drive around blocks he’d lined up. Utterances were constant, play was complex. There were puzzles to be completed and playgrounds to visit. He’d cry if surprised by the jet-loud roars of our food processor, so I’d try to prepare him for it’s use or wait until he wasn’t around. Otherwise, he rarely showed anxiety at home. It felt easy to respect his needs.

Though aspects of his development were advanced, he wasn’t challenging himself physically as much as his peers. He didn’t walk until he was 15-months. Likely the perfectionist in him, genes courtesy of yours truly, waited until he would not stumble. Slow and steady, calculated and predictable. He observed his toddler buddies ride their balance bikes, climb ladders and zoom down big slides. He developed pretend play routines instead. His playgrounds were bakeries and kitchens, chocolate shops and coffee shops. These themes probably also had something to do with his mother.

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Outside of our home, loud noises, new people or unpredictable kids made him nervous. Hiding behind us or begging to be held, I quickly learned to expect a tug on my pant leg. “Mama, pick me up!” was repeated incessantly until he was safely in my arms. We couldn’t leave him with anyone besides his familiar grandparents. Even with them, we had to sneak out after they provided ample distraction. Every other place we dropped him off paged us back to rescue him. They could never get him to stop sobbing.

At a friend’s son’s second birthday party, he didn’t leave my lap. As things wrapped up, moms encouraged their tots to gather on porch stairs for a picture. I plopped my boy down in their midst, ignoring the discomfort I read in his tense body. I backed away to see if he’d adapt, but of course, his lower lip proceeded to curl downward and he sobbed. I knew he would. I only tried to make him participate because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend and I felt like I needed to show the other moms I at least tried. I retrieved him from the stairs feeling pangs of anger and humiliation. Why wasn’t my kid like the others? Why couldn’t I just chat with the other moms while he played?

This was the first of many times I’d realize my expectations for him in public were different than they were at home. Simply because I wanted him to reflect a certain way on me.

After months of holding him up while other kids jumped into play and rarely getting to drop him off somewhere for a break, I grew to resent this pattern. I also started to worry. Would my little boy always be this needy? Did I baby him too much? Is attachment parenting a surefire route to timidity?

Eventually I began redefining my hopes and expectations. I was learning a new way that I needed to trust his natural development. Just like he learned to walk and talk, roll and and hold a spoon, I needed to believe that his emotional journey would progress in it’s own meaningful way.

4739917866_8b6102c4c6_zIMG_3084Thankfully, as years passed he grew more comfortable without us. He attended preschool with ease. He remained hesitant to participate in most activities beyond that, particularly if they were physical, and we respected his wishes. As a five and six year old, this meant kindly saying no to offers to go to rock climbing birthday parties, join soccer teams, or play at bounce houses.

I began to accept that he may never play a team sport. I began to embrace that he savored his time doing math problems and building towers more than playdates. I grew to love that he preferred to play with girls, engaging in complex play routines instead of climbing trees. I started to let go of my fears of him regularly feeling lonely and isolated.

There was grief in this process. I longed for aspects of motherhood that I didn’t think I would ever experience with him and that was disappointing. I simply began to walk more firmly in the knowledge that it would be far more devastating for him not to be true to himself. Or not believe he’s accepted for who he is.

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My boy keeps surprising me. This past year he jumped right in to his new school despite having only one friend in his class. He eagerly participated in physical games at recess and in PE. He tested for his yellow belt, even choosing to continue sparring after being punched in the face. He happily attended a rock climbing birthday party. Harnessed in, he grabbed the holds and climbed right up without hesitation. As he neared his limit and needed to rappel for his first time, I saw how scared he was. I anxiously anticipated him melting into a pool of tears and loud sobs. Instead, he worked through the fears with with just a little encouragement from the coach. I could not believe it. Any of it. I went to that party envisioning us watching all the other kids from the sidelines, while he felt disappointed by his fears. Instead, he kept climbing higher and higher, confidence growing with each summit. I picked my jaw up off the floor.

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Carried by World Cup excitement, he agreed to soccer camp. It was a huge hit and he begged me to go again before summer ended. At his request, he also played on a team this fall. Despite being the new guy with the least amount of experience, all he wanted was to be on the field. He even enjoyed playing goalie. Balls whizzed past his face by request! It has been wonderful to be shocked by his growth.

I know little to nothing about what’s coming ahead as a parent. These changes in him may swing the other direction. I can certainly count on parenting being unpredictable. Generally, it seems the challenges will surround my ability to grieve and accept. My ability to deal with my own expectations and fears. My ability to cope with the noise, chaos and mess that my energetic (may-as-well-be-on-stimulants) monkeys leave in their wake. Hopefully my ability to make a mean batch of cookies will temper it all a bit.

Every few months something happens in which I have to consciously examine whether or not I’m respecting their journeys and honoring their paths. How much do I believe in their natural emotional development? It seems that only my fears speak against trusting it.

 

Among the mushrooms + my first cookbook giveaway!

I find the lush wooded trails of the Pacific Northwest deeply alluring, somewhat mystical. My Colorado-trained hiking eyes are familiar with dry, rocky terrain. Here, however, I half expect a little gnome to run across the path and hide under a red capped mushroom. Or for Frodo’s hobbit hole to be revealed around the corner. A decade of northwest living has not yet accustomed me to the dense curtains of green that I had previously only envisioned through books and movies. Mostly fairytales.

Exploring Carkeek

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Massive ferns line the way amongst giant, moss covered evergreens. The rays of light that manage to peek through the canopy make for glistening moss and leaves. The return of rain in the fall awakens fungus, transforming the undergrowth. Mushrooms! They pop out to add dots of white, yellow and brown. Many congregate under the evergreens, others hang out on trunks.

Ever since reading The Mushroom Hunters, Langdon Cook’s fascinating account of our local foraging scene, I feel like the mushrooms tease me for my lack of skills. “Come here, little girl. Surely we’re safe! We’ll taste soooo good.” But, I am too smart and cautious of a woman to heed their tempting calls. Maybe someday I’ll learn to safely identify who is tricky and who is kind. In the meantime, I might require that every hike be followed by a trip to the market.

Angels or devils? I did not know, so I left them in peace.

Just like fresh, sustainable fish and well-sourced meat, I used to avoid buying mushrooms because I was afraid I’d end up throwing a lot of money into the compost bin. There are cheap button mushrooms to be found, for sure, but I longed to play with the chanterelles and the morels. Often these run over $15/lb at the market. They felt like a pretty serious commitment and I wasn’t yet confident cooking them.

Then, one summer evening in 2013, after hanging with the Two Crazy Monkeys all day, I drank a glass of wine. Or two. While checking email I discovered that one of my favorite Seattle chefs was doing a giveaway as part of her recipe testing for a mushroom focused cookbook. The person whose shroomy haiku won the most votes would win a tasting meal.

I’ve tasted Becky Selengut’s food more than a handful of times, through assisting several of her classes at The Pantry at Delancey and elsewhere. I also own Good FIsh, one of her other cookbooks. That book and its accompanying videos helped my brother and I take on an oyster shucking adventure, taught me how to choose and cook scallops, and guided me through my first time debearding mussels. Not only is she a great teacher, her food is delicious. I love mushrooms. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

A slightly-less-inhibited-than-usual-me contemplated my haiku. I realized that her fans and friends all shared a love for her wit and often irreverent humor so I fired off this little ditty:

Fungi kissed my log,

baby chanterelles emerged.

Morel of story?

AND I WON! Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed because there were some beautiful, truly poetic haikus written and mine was just a joke. But I won!

About a month before the dinner, Becky let me know the night would focus on the truffle section of her book. I’d never had even a taste of truffle before but was quite aware of its lure. I’m pretty sure I peed my pants. I danced and squealed my way to Harry, proclaiming how lucky we were. I didn’t know the half of it.

Becky and two of her closest friends greeted Harry and me at the door with champagne. I mean, come on! We can just stop there, right? It was our first date out in months. He didn’t have a job most of the summer and a babysitter was a big deal. To have a date and be greeted with champagne felt royal.

With champagne in one hand, the other soon held freshly baked gougères cut open to cradle a slice of white Alba truffle. We could’ve finished off the plate of those and called it a night. We all exhibited deep groans of appreciation. The rich man’s popcorn, “diamonds of the kitchen.” Whatever you call them, those things were absolutely amazing. I’m glad I soaked it in because I doubt I’ll ever eat one again. As Becky states in the section about what pairs well with them: “Truffles really like rich people.”

That was just the beginning. The night unfolded with one stunning dish after another, each paired with wine (Becky’s wife April is a sommelier and contributed drink pairings for the cookbook, as well as our evening). I know. I felt like Annie arriving at Oliver Warbucks’ house. Silken Scrambled Eggs with Shaved Alba White Truffles (about a 1:1 ratio of egg to cream/butter–a bite of pure heaven), Homemade Fettuccine with Shaved Truffle, Black Cod with Truffled Potatoes and Beurre Rouge, and Braised Rabbit with Truffle-Stuffed Rabbit Loin. We ate and drank all night. We laughed a ton. We shared a lot of stories. It was one of the best dinners of my life.

If you’re like me, you won’t be buying truffles to cook that dinner anytime soon. But, you’re still in luck. Shroom contains fifteen different chapters highlighting a specific mushroom (cremini to oyster, hedgehog to matsutake), with recipes ranging from easy to difficult. Additionally, there’s lots of background and prep help. If you’re on the fence about shelling up cash for something a step above creminis, Becky’s book will give you the confidence to buy, prepare and consume those beauties. A year ago I assisted with one of her mushroom classes at The Pantry. I walked away feeling much more confident with cooking them and have greatly enjoyed making many mushroom-centric meals since. (None were tossed out!) With the addition of her book and videos as a resource, my only question is how good the recipe will be. Delicious, amazing, divine? These are not bad options.

Pike Place Market loot: yellow chanterelles, basil and dahlias

Acquacotta soup with chanterelles + a basil/garlic puree

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have already made multiple recipes from Shroom and I have tasted many others during her classes, our dinner, and her book’s launch party. These recipes are flavorful and diverse. She highlights a wide range of ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian. Acquacotta Soup with Chanterelles and Garlic on Toast nourished us well a few weeks ago. Normally I wouldn’t have been drawn to this recipe because I had no reference point for it but our CSA vegetable box contents happened to perfectly match up with the necessary ingredients. I was pleased to usher in October with a new, perfectly fall-like soup. Last week I made my first risotto! Chanterelle Risotto with Lemon Thyme provided an incredibly luxurious lunch on an otherwise ordinary day.

Today I do not give you a recipe, I give you a book. One lucky reader will get a signed copy of Shroom. As much as I adore Becky’s sense of humor and keen observations, I also respect her kindness. She lives compassionately and generously. She donates classes, buys coffee for the people behind her, teaches many, and hands slices of Alba truffles to the drooling fools in her living room. In that spirit, I knew shortly after our dinner that I wanted her cookbook to be my first giveaway.

To get your hands on this hot copy of Shroom, you either need to write a haiku or do something kind. I don’t care what the act of kindness is, just as long as it’s not something you normally do. Like changing toilet paper rolls for the next person. Let this gesture take you out of your comfort zone. Valedictorians and extra credit seekers, your act of kindness could be written about in your haiku. Or your haiku could be an act of kindness. But they need not intersect and you don’t actually get extra credit. Leave your haiku or story of kindness on my Facebook page, as a tweet, or as a blog comment to be entered. (If you comment on the Facebook page, make sure I can notify you by “liking” my page. For twitter, make sure to tag me @tableforlove. )

Though I’m not sharing a specific recipe today, you can find five of her recipes here. Take note of Clare Barboza’s gorgeous photographs. This cookbook is a work of art. Lastly, check out Becky’s How To mushroom videos on her website. They’re a perfect way to ease fears about cooking mushrooms or deepen your repertoire.

Good luck!

Closest thing to a gnome I spotted

11/1/14: Contest closed. The winner has been notified. Thanks for participating!

Rules

  1. The book will be shipped within the continental United States. Seattle residents may get it delivered by hand. Maybe even by bike! If you win and live outside of the continental USA, you may certainly ask to have the book shipped to a more local friend or family member.
  2. The contest will close on November 1st, 2014. You have until All Saints Day to be a saint. After Halloween you will need a plethora of veggie-rich, awesome mushroom recipes. This book will help with that.
  3. One entry per person. If you post on the blog, make sure you leave your email in the commenting widget so I can alert you that you’ve won. If you post on facebook, make sure the page is “liked” so that I can message you personally. Otherwise, I can’t contact you through facebook.
  4. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. Or throw a dart. But I’ll make sure it’s fair.
  5. Comment! Write a haiku! Be generous!