Wednesday, July 28, 2010

lone sunflower

I awoke this morning to an orange-pink sunrise filtering in through our window, casting across our bed and the cat sleeping at my feet like a haze. I was the first one up. Instead of my usual mundane morning tasks or email checks, I wandered outside with my camera, eager to capture the fleeting morning light burning away the fog.

I would like to be the kind of person who has a yard full of sunflowers. This year, I planted two packs of sunflower seeds - along the top of our hillside garden in the front of the house, and along the fence-line in our backyard. I imagined how lovely they would look towering over the yard, welcoming our visitors, or lined up against our wood fence in the back. I envisioned their orange and yellow and red petals bending towards the afternoon sun, shading my other plants. 

Only one sunflower survived, grew tall enough to bloom. It bloomed for the first time yesterday, a bright, beautiful orange surprise. This morning, in the fading morning glow, its petals were covered in dew, its large green leaves cupped with water from last night's rain. I wish they had all grown and bloomed this way, but they did not. One is enough - enough to make me try again next year, enough to make me imagine our yard surrounded by tall, gangly sentries, omens of summer and harvest and heat. 

After work, I returned home with Dora to learn that a strange and sad thing occurred today in my hometown. The wonderful peace activist and farmer who I wrote about just yesterday died tragically in an accident on his farm. A friend thought perhaps I had written the blog because of his death, but I had, in fact, written it just before he died. Not long after I stood in this morning's orange glow, focusing in on dew drops on orange petals, a faithful, brave, loving, gentle man left this Earth in a most horrible, shocking way. This man, who stood face-to-face with an Israeli tank, who has lived in war zones, who has dodged real bullets, died on his hilly, rural farm in Southeastern Ohio, where war and tanks and bullets are just distant, unimaginable things. He truly believed that peace on Earth was possible, and he worked his entire life to see it realized. 

 About 5 years ago, I saw his wife speak about her recent experiences living in Palestine. She spoke of walking children to school surrounded by armed guards, of the fear of violence which soaked into every fiber of the fabric of that life. I remember being moved by her bravery and faith, her willingness to put herself in danger doing what she believed in. She said that, when she and Art would set off for foreign lands on peace-keeping missions, they would bid each other goodbye knowing it may be their last. In their faith and in their love for each other, they were prepared to die, prepared to lose each other, even. I take comfort in this thought, in my understanding of their deep faith, in their absolute belief in the power of love and of peace. 

 I don't really know what to make of this, except to be reminded once again that the world is connected, that the power and timeliness of our memories might be beyond our understanding, that this morning's orange glow and my solitary sunflower are somehow harbingers of a peace we may all hope for, while only a few of us have the strength to dedicate our lives to its promise. Is it better to believe that this is all just coincidence, or is it possible that it's not, that some energy in the world connects us in space and time in a way we can't fathom or explain? All I know is that a person who dedicated his life to peace and justice and walking a gentle path was welcomed into heaven today, and that is a moment of significance worth pausing for, like a lone sunflower in the garden covered in dew, basking in morning's early soft glow. 

In memory of Art Gish

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

freshest-ever eggplant parmesan

We are thoroughly enjoying summer's bounty here, plowing through week after week of CSA boxes from Flying Cloud Farm. It's been hot, too - far too hot to turn on the oven, but I did yesterday to try making eggplant parmesan using all produce from our box. We were sweating while we ate it, but it was delicious!

My mother never made eggplant parmesan, but I have an early memory of eating it at a dinner at a neighbor's farm. My parents sold flowers - zinnias, snapdragons, cosmos - at the local farmer's market when I was young, and through that became friends with farmers around our area. Among those farmers were Art and Peggy Gish, peace activists whose farm in hilly southeastern Ohio was open to a variety of transients and visitors, where the only payment for room and board was made through laboring on the farm. The Gish's raised all variety of unusual vegetables, Asian greens and kohlrabi and eggplant. The dinner was vegetarian, served at a large table surrounded by men with long beards and women in skirts and sandals. The eggplant parmesan was, to me, exotic and delicious, unlike anything I'd ever had. In truth, it was not exotic. I know now that the ingredients were chosen simply because they were in season, but at the time I found the entire experience - the food, the people, the communal way in which the meal was prepared and cleaned up after - to be intriguing and beautiful.

I'm not sure this eggplant parmesan lives up to the meal I ate with Art and Peggy all those years ago, but it does follow in their path by using seasonal, local ingredients at their peak of harvest. 

Freshest-Ever Eggplant Parmesan
(adapted from Martha Stewart Food) 

olive oil 
1 egg 
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded parmesan + 2 Tablespoons (I used pecorino romano) 
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil 
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 - 3 small eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/2 in rounds 
5 vine-ripe tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced 
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush with olive oil. In a shallow bowl, whisk the egg with 2 Tablespoons water. In another shallow bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup parmesan, oregano, and basil.  Season with salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant in the egg, then dredge in the breadcrumbs to coat. Place on baking sheets, then bake for about 20 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Turn over and back for another 20 minutes, until golden brown. 

Meanwhile, set a medium saucepan of water to boil. Score the bottom of the tomatoes with an x and drop into boiling water for about 30 seconds, until the skin starts to loosen. Drain in a colander and rinse briefly in cold water until cool enough to handle, peel, and core. Over a medium bowl, coarsely chop the peeled tomatoes, retaining all the liquid from the tomatoes. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and saute briefly, until fragrant. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until beginning to thicken. Stir in tomato paste and fresh basil. 

In a square baking dish, spread about 2 cups of sauce. Layer about half the eggplant slices over the sauce, top with more sauce, and sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Repeat layers, ending with mozzarella. Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons parmesan. Bake uncovered for about 15 minutes, until lightly brown and bubbling. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy with an assortment of friends, toasting the season, peacemakers, and the bounty of summer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

puddle jumping

It's been a difficult week here. Stress at work seems to be at an all time high. Friends and coworkers are facing their own challenges. One of my most beloved animal friends is incredibly sick, so much so that I said some final goodbyes to him a few days ago because I really thought it was time for him to go. He's still here, but is so much more frail and old than he was even two weeks ago. My sweet Mackeson boy has been with me for 13 years, sleeping on my pillow, nuzzling with his lovely Simone, begging for food and spending many years fat and happy. I know he's had a wonderful life, prolonged and made so much better by finding me when he was living in an abandoned trailer by a house that I rented. But the thought of him not being part of my life is absolutely heartbreaking. 

 We are about to travel this weekend again, trip anxiety looming over me like a cloud. Dora and I came home from work and school today in one of the first rains we've had in a long time - one we desperately need. There is so much to do tonight, of course, but when we saw the rain Dora said she wanted to stomp some puddles. We headed outside, her in a raincoat and rain boots although it wasn't raining anymore, and me with my camera. On the way down the concrete stairs to the street, when my back was turned, she tripped over her boots, smashing her hands and knees against the hard concrete. I picked her up, held her and kissed her, and took her to the porch. Four bandaids later she was feeling better and ready to puddle jump again, and I was thankful things hadn't been worse. 

We stomped puddles and laughed, then headed home for dinner. We had books, bath, and bed. I packed clothes and cleaned the kitchen. I sat down, loaded the puddle jumping pictures onto my computer, and found a wonderful gem - a photo of Dora, smiling mischieviously with her blond curls around her face, the spitting image of my mom.

I have been missing my mom so much lately - missing her humor and her loyalty and her advice. There are times when she feels so very far away - when I feel her absence so strongly because it is so real, so palpable. Finding her in the photograph tonight was like magic, like discovering some lost piece of myself that had been right in front of me all along, like glimpsing the tail of the comet. There she was again, real, alive, smiling back at me in her funny little way, like we're about to share a joke. It is such an amazing, incredible gift to have her back with me again, even if for a fleeting moment. I will treasure that photo forever - my sweet girl splashing around with total joy, giving her mama a gift greater than she could ever know.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

one year

My blog is one year old today. It's hard to believe I've been doing this for a whole year. In many ways, I didn't think I'd make it this long. I'm proud I've been able to keep up with it, and on the other hand I wish I had accomplished more. I guess some small part of me thought that, maybe, I'd put it all out there with this blog and something big and momentous would fall in my lap - the book deal and the column in Bon Appetit and whatever else you care to imagine. But, it's ok - it really is - that those things haven't happened. Yet. 

What has happened is that I've discovered things about myself I didn't know before. I've found that writing is more therapeutic than ever, that there are times when I have something that I want to say, need to say, so intensely that the only cure is to sit down and write it - all of it - until the thoughts are clear, or at least cleared out. I've learned that what I have to say means something to other people - even people who don't know me at all - which has been more rewarding than any of you who have commented or encouraged me could ever know. I've seen my husband be a supportive and loyal friend, allowing me the time and space to create what I've presented here even at his own expense. 

I'm using my camera more. I'm taking pictures all the time, especially this month, even if it's just in 10 minutes stolen between work and dinnertime. I'm allowing myself the creative freedom to capture whatever crosses my path, while also pushing myself to try new things, get back out there, dance around the edges of some more formal place for photography in my life. I'm officially the user of a digital camera, and even though I'm not totally confident in my skills, at least I'm not blowing through film the way I used to. The instant gratification of digital is - well - dangerous. 

 I'm formally recording my life as a mom, Dora's life as my daughter, her growth and her development and her amazing milestones. I never wrote in the baby book. I didn't keep up with it as I should have. But I've got this - written words and images that I hope will someday have great meaning for her, or at least help her understand who I am. 

I've developed a new connection with my mother that I didn't know was possible. Setting out on this project I had no idea how much of my writing here would center around my feelings of loss, my memories of my mother, my musings on what it means to have lost someone so important to me. Delving into that has been painful at times - and not just for me - but I am so glad I did it. She may be gone, but I believe that my words can keep us connected, can keep her alive in my world and my heart in a public and honest way. 

 So much of what I write here is about trying to understand the purpose, the place we're supposed to occupy, the direction our lives are headed. But, every comment I get, every time a friend shares this space with someone else, every time my husband gets teary-eyed at what I write, every time I finish a post and feel it's completed some new piece of the puzzle, I know I'm doing some small part of what I'm supposed to be doing. And maybe that's enough, for now. 

Thank you all, so much, for sharing this space with me, for encouraging me, for being supportive when I needed it more than you can ever possibly know. 

Here's to another year!

Monday, July 5, 2010

lemony kale ravioli

Approaching the one year anniversary of this blog has reminded me that one of my original intentions with it was to write and post recipes, and my photographs of them. As the blog has evolved, I've gotten further away from doing that. Coming up with new recipes takes time, of which I seem to have very little these days. Between working full-time, crafting (and trying to make a profit of it), becoming more consumed with photography, spending time with my husband, and being a mom, we're lucky to be eating, period. But, I recently got some encouragement from a reader (my cousin David) who asked me to keep posting recipes, and from today's habit post, which includes my photo of homemade coleslaw in the making (yay!). 

If you participate in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program you've probably been getting your fill of cooking greens this spring and early summer. Our CSA box from Flying Cloud Farm has included them every week since it began in April, and that's fine by me. Present every week has been kale, one of my favorites. I love kale, I really do. I like it sauteed ever so slightly in olive oil with garlic and lemon zest, tossed into soup, or added to quesadillas or burritos. I came across several ravioli recipes using cooking greens, which inspired me to come up with me own kale ravioli recipe. 

I'm sure some of my Italian friends out there would be able to share their time-honored, delicious recipes for making ravioli from scratch. That's something I'd really like to try, but I probably won't have time until, say, I retire. So, this recipes relies upon wonton wrappers, a stand-in that works well and is used in a myriad of similar recipes. If you are adept at (or just ambitious enough to try) making your own ravioli, please do! In the meantime, here's a shortcut for you. 

Lemony Kale Ravioli
To save time, I made the sauce and the ravioli filling simultaneously - but for simplicity I'm listing the instructions separately.  

For the sauce: 

1 Tbs olive oil 
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1 1 lb, 13 oz can diced tomatoes 
1 14 oz can tomato sauce 
1 tsp dried thyme 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 tsp dried basil 
freshly ground pepper 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering, add the garlic, and saute briefly until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, sauce, and herbs, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook slowly while preparing the other ingredients. Season with pepper to taste just before serving. Feel free to sub fresh herbs for the dried if you prefer - just use 1 Tbs of each instead.

 For the ravioli: 

1 Tbs olive oil 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, finely chopped (it's ok if the leaves are a bit damp)
zest of one lemon 
one small container ricotta cheese 
a handful of shredded pecorino romano cheese
1 package wonton wrappers
salt and freshly ground pepper 

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering, add the garlic cloves, and saute briefly until fragrant. Add the kale and stir to coat with oil and garlic. Saute until wilted and tender but al dente, about 5 - 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the kale into a medium bowl, add lemon zest and ricotta, and stir to combine. 

To assemble, place one wonton wrapper on a work surface with one corner towards you, so the wrapper forms a diamond on your work surface. Put a small spoonful of filling in the center of the wrapper, moisten two edges with a bit of water, and fold in half in a triangle shape, pinching the edges down to seal. Keep the filled raviolis covered with a damp paper towel as you work, and keep the stack of wontons covered until ready to use. 

To cook, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the ravioli, and stir gently. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a colander to drain. Serve topped with sauce.  

You can easily freeze leftover ravioli - just place the filled but uncooked ravioli in a single layer on a baking sheet, cover with saran wrap, and freeze for about 1 hour, then transfer to a sealed container to store. To cook, toss frozen ravioli into boiling salted water and cook until tender, 4 - 5 minutes. You can also make what you want for one meal, then save the remaining filling and wonton wrappers tightly covered in the fridge until the following day. 

When making this I haven't gotten my proportion of filling to wonton wrappers just right - I had a bit of filling left over. I've saved it in my fridge to use as a sandwich spread this week. The ravioli would taste equally delicious with any other kind of sauce - a white wine, butter and herb sauce would be delicious, or just some fresh tomatoes and basil gently sauteed in olive oil. Or, just toss them with olive oil and shredded pecorino romano. 

It's ok if some of the raviolis come open while cooking. According to Lynne Rosetto Kasper, old Italian ladies she spoke with said this is a good thing, as it imparts even more flavor on their ravioli by enriching the cooking water. It's always nice when imperfections have a purpose. Enjoy!!