VisionQuest: Pumpkin Risotto With Chipotles In Adobo

Looks can be deceiving.

For my entire life, I have been nearly blind.

Since second grade my eyesight has been rapidly deteriorating, due in part, I believe, to a lonely childhood spent reading in near darkness and moving cars for hours on end.

My dad used to pick me up from school early (once a week? Once a month?) to go to an eye doctor who would give me eye exercises that I wouldn’t do. For me, this time with my dad was a good excuse for both of us to get forbidden mint chocolate chip ice cream from the High’s store in Meyersville and spend a little time together. The eye doctor really did seem like the perfect ruse to get more ice cream, especially since the only result was ever-thickening eyeglasses and an eventual prescription for contact lenses that I frequently lost, way before disposables and much to the chagrin of my parents.

As I have gotten older, my eyesight has changed so that now I can not only not see things that are far away, but I also can’t see things close up.

To wit:

my·o·pi·a
(mīˈōpēə)
noun
nearsightedness; also lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight

and also:

hy·per·o·pi·a
hīpəˈrōpēə
noun
farsightedness

It’s a metaphor, y’all.

Not only have I spent my lifetime being blindsided by things that I never saw coming, but now I can’t even see what’s right in front of me.

It doesn’t even matter if a tree falls in the forest. I can’t see the forest OR the motherfucking tree.

It’s hard to reframe this stunning lack of clarity. I could break the words down to their parts: hyper = “beyond,” but myope means “shut”, so that ruins that attempt at positivity (off topic, a word I loathe and which I am not 100% convinced is actually a word).

I could envision myself walking through a softened landscape, all pleasant and blurry, like a vaseline-smeared Summer’s Eve commercial.

Mostly, though, I just feel dumb and perpetually set on my ass by things that happen, both large and small.

Thoughtfully, my inner voice confirms on a regular basis that I am, in fact, a total fucking moron. After all, “lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight” is a feature of myopia. So there’s that.

But still.

We all of us walk around thinking how what we see is a confirmation of what we know. We rely on sight, that dumbest of all of the senses, to provide the most vital of information. But our vision is constantly changing, and it’s a known fact that eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable – the weak instrument of their eyes processing what is seen through the filter of their feeling and experience so that what they saw isn’t often what actually happened.

There is this thing in psychology whereby people recount their traumatic experience to help others heal, referred to as “bearing witness.” In this process, we share what we feel, not what we see, in order to lighten our load and to help others work through their own traumatic events. Psychologists believe that this practice not only helps patients heal from horrific experiences but also helps a community offer empathy and support.

When someone gets up on the witness stand, they talk about what they (think they) saw.

When someone bears witness, they recount their feelings and experiences.

In the first case, it’s nearly impossible to get right.

In the second, no vision – myopic or otherwise – is necessary.

Art is like this also, even the visual kind. Yes, it’s a medium seen with the eyeballs, but painting can provoke wildly differing reactions, like triggers. Same with literature, music, etc. It’s the feeling part of the experience, the experience of the viewing and everything that the viewer brings to that experience, not the projected upside down mirror image that the brain processes that is the thing.

When I am asked if I would rather be deaf or blind, I pick deaf 100% of the time because OH MY GOD MOUTH NOISES, but in thinking about sight these days and what it means to really not see something coming, I don’t know if it matters one way or the other. If I get surprised constantly anyway, perhaps it’s time to stop looking for things and just get on with the business of feeling them.

Experiencing them.

In the same way that what we see is often not what we get, risotto doesn’t look like much. My Particular Friend commented once about how it always looks so unassuming, this plate full of rice, until you fork some up and experience it firsthand.

This risotto is definitely like that.

First of all, it is the most basic of fall flavors – pumpkin – but if you find that objectionable you’ll have to build a bridge and get over it (see Recipe Notes). Then a little warming spice and some salty cheese. This isn’t just the plate of rice that you see at the top of this post. You will just have to experience it for yourself.

Pumpkin Risotto With Chilis In Adobo

Ingredients

6-8 cups vegetable stock

Splash of olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

Splash cooking sherry or white wine (1/4 cup? ish?)

2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup pumpkin purée (see Recipe Notes)

1-  2 T puréed  chipotle in adobo (see Recipe Notes)

Optional: 2 tablespoons butter

Cotija cheese (for serving; see Recipe Notes)

Method

Place stock in a pot and warm to near boiling.

Heat olive oil in a pan and add diced onion; season with salt and pepper. Sauté until nearly translucent, and then add arborio rice and toast, stirring constantly. Toast until rice is light brown and begins to release a nutty fragrance.

Add a splash of sherry or white wine and stir until the wine is nearly gone.

Add heated stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly. Don’t cheat, and don’t listen to that “no-stir” risotto bullshit. It’s bullshit. Stir your rice.

Keep adding stock and stirring until just before rice reaches al dente. You can test this by tasting, but another way is to take one grain of rice and smear it on a cutting board. The rice should smear away except for one little white speck in the middle. That’s al dente. Stop just before that.

Add pumpkin purée and adobo purée and stir until fully combined. Continue adding stock until rice is al dente, and then remove from heat and stir in your (optional) two tablespoons of butter (leave it out and this dish is vegan, without the cheese). Season with black pepper and a little salt.

Crumble cotija and serve. Also optional to add a little fresh cilantro.

Recipe Notes

  • I use vegetable stock because I am cooking for a vegetarian, but chicken stock works fine.
  • A word on pumpkin puree: I used this because I had leftover from a batch of ice cream, but you could make your own butternut squash purée or even use tiny diced cubes of sugar pumpkins or butternut squash. This is largely a matter of preference and time.
  • No one knows what to do with a huge can of chipotle peppers in adobo, so here’s a pro-tip. Open the can when you get it, dump the entire thing in a blender/food processor, and purée . Freeze in ice cube trays and use in soups, sauces, etc.
  • I didn’t have cotija, so I used crumbled feta from Prima Foods: hands down the single best feta I have ever had. You can use whatever you like, but don’t skip the cheese (unless you’re making this vegan). Tames the heat and adds some salt.

 

 

 

 

A New Driver Deserves A Drink: The Angry Mule

Back of the tooth: “Flossing isn’t just for gangstas.”

This morning my favorite (youngest/only) daughter got her driver’s license.

I remember getting mine as if I was the one behind the wheel a few hours ago. I took my test in a red Ford Escort with a manual transmission, back in the day when you still had to parallel park to earn that plastic. I had plans that weekend, plans that relied on me passing that test.

I remember the front wheel kissing the curb as I straightened up after parking, and my heart sank. If I was directed right after I pulled out of the parking space, that meant I had passed. A left meant disappointed friends and another boring weekend, trapped at the whim of parents who were sick of driving me around. I pulled the car out of the space and brought the front bumper parallel to the stop sign, expectantly looking at the test administrator. With a bit of a sigh, he pointed right.

I couldn’t watch The Kid as she began her test today. Mr. Tyrone walked the perimeter of the car, asking her to turn on various lights, and I couldn’t remember if she actually knew where the hazard lights were (or how to turn them on). She was spacey as we drove to her appointment, and I was just worried in general.

It’s no small thing, this putting your kid in the world and hoping for the best. It’s not just the lack of control over what they do; it’s the lack of control over what everybody else does. No one can be forced to treat your kid well.

No one gives a rat’s ass if you think they are amazing or if you did your best.

Mostly, from birth until you stop posting family selfies and ridiculous updates all over your social media, most people in the world are simply humoring you and your obsession with your child.

#TrueStory

It’s okay. We are built to be the center of our own universe. We can’t expect everyone to feel the same way about the things we care most about.

The one person who would have cared at least as much as me, beyond just a regular, garden-variety well-wishing, is sitting on the top shelf of my closet in a little wooden box.

When Dane died, Luke Bryan released “Drink A Beer,” a song that nearly killed me at that point in my grief. It was a country song, but we were in Georgia, and if I am being honest, Dane was more than a little bit country. Nevermind the “good lord” references; that’s beside the point.

Listen.

This song has been reverberating in my head since I handed Sicily her own key on a tooth-shaped key chain. As I type this and listen to various versions of it, I miss him. I miss Sicily’s father. I miss him because of her, and I miss him because of me. He would have been so proud today, and he would have cried as she drove away to spread these new wings of hers.

Neither of us are/were the praying kind, but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to sending something into the universe about protecting my heart as she drives to her next adventure/heartbreak/triumph/devastation.

After we spent a little more time in the company of the delightful folks at the MVA, Sicily drove us down to Jimmy’s in Fell’s Point for breakfast. I spent many drunk and hungover mornings with my friend Luke at the old Formica counter in Jimmy’s, drinking draft Budweiser so cold that it had thin sheets of ice floating at the top.

It doesn’t even shock me that I didn’t realize the Luke Bair (my friend)/Luke Bryan (that singer) connection until that last sentence came out of my fingers, or that I just randomly suggested breakfast at Jimmy’s to celebrate.

I didn’t get a beer because a beer at 9:30 might send the wrong message to my newly-licensed driver, but if any day warrants a drink, today is it.

Perhaps it should be a little forlorn, today’s drink, but grief takes it out of me so that I can’t even muster the strength to be forlorn. I made up this little cocktail over the summer but didn’t set it down until yesterday. #Foreshadowing

I know there is a drink with the same name, but this is not that, and I am certainly open to alternative suggestions.

Raising a glass tonight to myself, my sweet new driver, and my beloved husband who would have been so proud and is still very missed.

The Angry Mule

Make your own. The store-bought crap is no good.

Jalapeño-Infused Vodka

4 cups vodka

5 or 6 jalapeños

The Rest

Ginger beer (I like Gosling’s. Anything but ginger ale. #Heresy)

Pineapple juice

Method

PLAN AHEAD. Make your vodka by chopping up the jalapeños and placing them in a clean quart jar. Cover with vodka. Include the seeds. Let sit in a cool, dark place until you can’t wait anymore. A couple days, a week. Or just give it a taste. You may find it’s too spicy and want to add more vodka (see below).

Strain into a clean jar.

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add two ounces of vodka, then ginger beer almost to the top. Splash of pineapple juice, a little stir, and you’re in business.

Recipe Notes

  • The batch of jalapeño vodka I currently have working is actually bright green. This is a very, very good thing. This means that I can cut this batch with even more vodka and have even more jalapeño-infused vodka. #HellYes

My sweet baby. Jazz hands and potato chips at two years old. Not much has changed.

The Brady Bunch Challenge: Spicy Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Like butter drippin’ off a hot biscuit.

My particular friend and I have Brady-bunched our households recently, in a much less dramatic fashion than the TV show (he brings a near-teenager part-time, D, and I have a teenager, Sicily, who is full-time but who is also a working stiff with lots of friends and is not around as often as she used to be).

It has been challenging, which is an understatement along the lines of “That iceberg looks pretty big,” and “Is it dangerous that this zeppelin is filled with extremely explosive gas?”

It is hard to know whether the best way to do this is to rip the Band-Aid off and just shove everyone together with family-type events or to let things just happen.

If you have teenagers, you know both are loaded propositions. Trying to manufacture a new type of family can be saccharin and artificial, and teenagers tend to mostly want to hibernate in their own rooms. So if we force everyone to a nightly family dinner it might feel fake and super awkward, but when left to their own devices, the two teenagers tend to disappear to their respective rooms, emerging like hibernating bears for food and occasionally to wash a huge load of laundry and shower. This makes getting to know everyone in this new way difficult.

And then there is the challenge of nurturing and growing our own relationship in the face of surly teenagers, differing parenting styles, and the shit that is cohabitating with others (how are there so many freaking bobby pins and single socks in this house?!). How do you manage an adult relationship with children that is not based on those children?

If you are a parent who is still partnered with the other half of your offspring’s DNA, you have exactly zero idea of what I am talking about. That’s totally amazing, and I am truly happy for you in your relationship. DON’T WASTE IT.

If you have lost a spouse to divorce or death, and you have managed to pull your soggy, mangled heart off the wasteland of the floor that is your life and actually get out into the world and meet another person, you are in for a challenge that goes far beyond being vulnerable, confronting loss, and worrying about showing your naked self to someone new for the first time in ______ years.

Turns out, those things are easy when compared to navigating the treacherous waters of parenting someone else’s kid.

For the record, I will never be D’s mom. She has a mom who loves her fiercely, exactly the way a mother should. I don’t share the birth experience with D, and that in and of itself is a powerful connection that only a biological mother can feel.

Side note: I have an adopted brother. Adoptive parents can feel just as powerful a connection in a different way that is no less valid and potent. Don’t get mad and send me hate mail. I mean no disrespect.

But there is no way around it: I am an adult in D’s life, and she is a child in my house. Khristian is looking down the barrel of a 17-year-old teenager (my daughter) who lost a dad of her own and isn’t really looking for a replacement.

Do you see how things can become/have become/are becoming more complex?

Parenting is the worst best job when the kid is your own. I never wanted to be a parent. If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I am not a huge fan of kids in general (which is pretty funny since one of my callings in life has been as a teacher, both in a classroom and now on a yoga mat. But I digress.) So what do you call parenting when the worst best job applies to someone else’s kid?

How do you not be an asshole to a 12-year-old, or, at the very least, not feel like an asshole when you correct said 12-year-old in the same way you would correct your own child but when the 12-year-old is not, in fact, your 12-year-old?

It is complex. Add to this a biological mother who is struggling – understandably so – with this reconfiguration, and the layers begin to look geologic. I started this blog post a couple weeks ago, and as time passed things got more heated. For all intents and purposes, and even though D has moved in, I am an outsider to one of the main struggles in her former-family, looking in on a parental relationship that failed and continues to be problematic for the parents (and increasingly, for the child). The first sentence of this blog in its first draft asked which was harder: death or divorce.

When it comes to parenting the answer is very, very simple: divorce.

Divorced people who want nothing to do with each other are forced to interact when they share a child. That interaction will only get worse as the kid gets older and decisions get more complicated and more expensive. In contrast with Sicily, whose dead father is a keen and deeply felt knife-like absence on (increasingly predictable) occasions, Khristian’s former spouse is a keen and deeply felt knife-like presence in even the most mundane of daily decisions. These are the fogs of a former dynamic that don’t quite seem to be dissipating.

So in essence, as of now, it seems that the house is just not big enough for everyone who is here.

I talked to my therapist about this today (and I don’t care who knows). My particular friend, my sweet love – he is struggling. And so am I. I am angry, explosively so but with no proper target and no real right to be angry. I can see from the outside what I think should be done, but it’s not mine to do. And yet the center, as it is, cannot hold.

My therapist is pretty much right on with most things. Previous examples of her brilliance include the acronym SET when dealing with teenagers (Support, Empathy, Truth), an approach that revolutionized the way I dealt with The Kid when her teenager was hanging out. True to form, today she proposed that I approach the situation with this thing called “radical acceptance.”

Whereas depression says, “Nothing matters, so it’s pointless,” radical acceptance realizes that there is nothing to be done one way or the other; things just are the way they are.

In other words, there is nothing for me to do about the hovering presence of a former spouse.

Getting involved doesn’t help.

Having an opinion doesn’t help.

Getting angry/sad/bitchy about it doesn’t help.

I can listen. That’s about it.

And when I can’t listen anymore, I can even say, “Hey, man. I can’t hear this right now.”

Therapy is a fucking miracle sometimes.

In the meantime, there is always food. That constant thread.

The above-referenced 12-year-old is a big fan of ice cream (and the 17-year-old works at The Charmery in Hampden, bringing home samples after each shift). D is a talented maker of ice cream herself, but she has a palate that is, to be frank, picky, very selective , and difficult to please (it’s hard to compete with grilled cheese and tater tots). I made this sweet and spicy ice cream using corn harvested from a friend’s father’s garden on a whim, not wanting to waste either the corn (which I made into relish) or the cobs (which found their way into this recipe). D loves it, cayenne pepper and all.

I am not naive enough to think that ice cream – however delicious – will make this transition pain-free. As I write this, the adults in D’s life are still trying to get their shit together. All I can do, all any of us can do, is try to recognize that all of the conflict really has nothing to do with me and everything to do with a past that is still present for D and her father. Divorce is its own particular kind of hell, I think, a hell that expands and contracts with each passing year. This particular divorce comes with a morass of painful feelings that sit on our doorstep as we combine families. After supporting the people in my household through this, I figure the very least I can do is give them something sweet.

Spicy Sweet Corn Ice Cream

The first thing you taste is sweet corn, followed by a hint of vanilla and the scratchy burn of just a touch of cayenne. This is pretty much the best summer dessert ever.

Ingredients

4 corn cobs, corn removed (but don’t be too precious about it; you can leave some on there)

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

3/4 cup sugar, divided

6 egg yolks (make meringue with the whites, or give your dogs a treat)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt

Method

Place heavy corn cobs, heavy cream, and milk in heavy saucepan and heat until bubbles form on the edges of the milk. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Remove the corn cobs from the cream/milk mixture, scraping all of the delicious bits off the cob with a spoon before pouring the milk through a fine mesh sieve. Return the milk to the heat. Scrape the paste from the inside of the vanilla bean and add to the milk (or add vanilla extract, if using) and add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Heat until bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan, stirring occasionally.

Combine egg yolks, salt, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and cayenne in a bowl. Use a whisk to combine completely.

This next part is where you might completely ruin your custard, so go slowly. If you have no experience with this sort of thing, go at half the speed you might normally go.

Using a whisk and whisking constantly, pour a thin stream of the hot milk into the eggs. You can pour a little and whisk, or pour a thin stream constantly; you are bringing the cold eggs up to the temperature of the hot milk (or close) so that you don’t make sweet scrambled eggs (BARF).

Once you have poured and whisked about a cup of the hot milk into the eggs, add the egg mixture back into the pan and return to medium-low heat. This is the second part where you might screw it up, so go slow and keep the heat low. Cook gently, stirring constantly, for about ten minutes or until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and once again pass the custard through a  fine-mesh strainer. You need to chill this mixture before processing, but it’s important to bring the temperature down quickly as you have just created the perfect petri dish for bacteria (eggs and sugar and milk that’s warm). To do this, fill a large bowl (bigger than the bowl you have the custard in) with ice cubes and water, and place the custard bowl inside. Stir custard occasionally. When it has cooled enough to touch, remove from ice bath, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until completely cool (at least four hours but overnight is good, too, making this a great make-ahead dessert).

Chill according to manufacturer’s directions on your ice cream maker.

Just FYI, The Road Is Lined With Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

I have made Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble this morning for breakfast and am now listening to the rain and waiting for it to cool. It is the kind of rain that is the harbinger of a change in the weather, and I am ready for fall.

August always seems to be this way: a headlong rush and flurry of busy-ness that only begins to calm down as the mercury drops and the sun dips below the horizon a few minutes earlier every night. I don’t subscribe to the status-seeking cult of busy-ness (also known as the “busy trap”) that surrounds people in the U.S., and yet I have a distinctly difficult time actually relaxing. It is hard for me to sit and just be.

Even as I put a period at the end of that last sentence I was rising to get a slice of still-warm cake because I just couldn’t wait anymore.

I have also, in the time that it has taken to write this little bit, texted with a friend and checked my calendar to see if there is anything pressing this week.

What happened to me?

Growing up, bored and lonely on the side of a mountain in western Maryland, I used to while the days away reading, making art, walking in the woods, and writing. My brother and I were not especially close, and when we were it was often because I was receiving a punch for some unknown transgression (or perhaps because he was, himself, bored and lonely and without any particular outlet, and I happened to be handy). I learned early not to approach him unless I was so bored that it was worth the gamble of a blow or a game.

We didn’t have a TV until I was older, and even then it was a black-and-white set with rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil perched on top, so reception (and even just plain old power) was sketchy at best. We had animals and chores and two parents who worked, so I was left to my own devices more often than not. There was nothing much to do and an endless amount of time to get it done.

After many years of busy doing, I find myself now in a position where I can take my time to do what it is that I am doing. I have mercenary writing that people pay me to do, and then I have my own (which pays nothing but is one of those things like breathing that is necessary and reflexive and vital, even when words don’t make it onto the page. But I digress.). I have yoga teaching and a new job as the assistant manager at my lovely studio, both of which do not take much time either.

So I find myself at loose ends, again, as the calendar and the weather indicate that it is, indeed, decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

What to do? How to fill the days?

Technically, I have completed all of the duties of a productive member of society: I have (nearly) raised a child to adulthood (a good one, I think); I have started a school and taught over a thousand children; I have been married to a man I loved and lost; I have been lucky enough to love another man in a way that is breath-taking to me – we are building a life together that I could not imagine in the years following the death of my husband.

I have volunteered my time, donated my money, rescued animals, helped others. I have paid taxes.

But what is it about my need to feel like I am doing something? Who cares what I am doing? Who cares how fast it gets done?

Lots of folks, turns out. I have been the recipient of some judgy looks and comments, for sure, about my lack of “busy” on a daily basis. On many days my presence is not required anywhere. I can sit with two dogs at my feet and a cat lazily twining in and around my ankles until I am damn good and ready to do whatever it is that I feel like doing (or whatever it is I have put on my calendar; I am an inveterate procrastinator, but I have not missed a single deadline, and my written calendar is the reason why). This seems to be offensive to some. If I am not worn out by work I don’t enjoy and shopping with the madding crowd every Saturday morning, my life is something of a millennial’s, and perhaps I should grow up.

We are conditioned from birth to do, go, and be. We are to be productive members of society. We are to graduate from schooling (and childhood) and earn money to buy All Of The Things, and we are to have a career or something that we do for 40 hours a week. We are selfish if we choose to art or write or travel or bake or otherwise defy the American Dream (which has itself become a nightmare).

In my graduating class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there were two philosophy majors who matriculated with the whole class of several thousand. I still remember wondering what, exactly, that degree would translate into as far as employment goes. Even when I got my English degree, the first question was always if I was planning on teaching. What would I DO with my degree?

Side note before I continue my white-privileged exploration: I am well aware that the color of my skin has allowed me to even think about not doing, going, and being. It is a source of much trouble in my mind and in my writing that I get to write from a place that many people (women) of color will not be able to experience. It is also true that I am exploring ways to support people of color in my work and in theirs. 

Side note, part two: I would not be able to indulge in this type of under-employment were it not for a few life-changing events, specifically the death of my husband in 2013, which put the process of living into perspective, and the closure of my school, HoneyFern, shortly thereafter. 

But here I am now, scoffing at my own self a bit, just as if I was one of the philosophy majors who has no real prospects for gainful employment.

I am trying to make peace with the fact that I there is no earthly requirement (or heavenly one for that matter) that I be constantly and consistently on a path of someone else’s design.

Trouble is getting myself to relax into a path of my own design. Or to even find a path. Or know how to start thinking about design.

We are most of us morons when it comes to listening to our own selves and shutting out all of the noise. It is challenging to find out if what we are doing is actually something we want to be doing or if we have been so corrupted by the influence of the world around us that we are just utterly convinced it was our own idea in the first place.

I am trying to shut up and listen to that little voice, not the Anti-Cheerleader, that raging bitch who insists I am unworthy and ask how dare I, but the voice that is still capable of awe and pure joy. The one that is unconnected to anything but itself. When I can shut up everything – The Facebook, Instagram, the people who would still treat me as if I were a child, the expectations of the world, my own doubt and anxiety and worry – I find moments and glimpses of the road ahead of me. And it’s a peaceful, gravel-lined walk that is meandering and has lots of benches with cushions lining it (I like a soft place to land).

For now, though, seems like I am still in the place of learning to unclench. The anxiety and worry that has gripped me this summer still squeezes me like a fist. It’s rainy days, with peach cake, that maybe help that ease up just a bit.

Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

This is a breakfast cake, like coffee cake, only with fresh fruit, so technically a serving of fruit. 

Ingredients

Dry:

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

Wet:

2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups fresh peach, peeled, pitted, and chopped small

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter

Optional: 1/2 cup pecans (or type of nuts like almonds or macadamia), chopped small

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish (butter, oil, or cooking spray). You can also use mini bundt pans (see Recipe Notes).

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add peaches and stir to combine.

Pour into glass baking dish.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Add pecans, if using. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your cake.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Best cooled completely and then maybe warmed slightly. If using gluten-free flour especially, cool completely for the best texture.

Recipe Notes

If using mini bundt pans, press crumb topping gently into the top of the batter and reduce baking time to 20-25 minutes. This can also be baked in a large bundt pan, with the same guidelines and a longer baking time (watch carefully). Cool for ten minutes in bundt pan, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

 

Sheer Delight: Better Than They Oughta Be Fried Green Tomato Arepas

Fried green tomato arepa with pimento cheese. #FreshParsleyOptional

The Child and I visited my grandmother last week, the one who steals fruit from her assisted living facility. Busy summers and basic malaise have kept us away since the second week in June, but putting off a visit to a 98-year-old person is no good idea. Plus, The Child and I need to feel like we are on the road from time to time; our best conversations happen while the tires eat the miles, even if it’s just a short two-hour jaunt to rural Pennsylvania.

When we pulled up, she was sitting in the sun outside the entrance to the main building. Three young men were spreading mulch in the flower beds, and the day was that kind of almost-fall day where the sky is such a crystalline shade of blue that the trees are outlined in black.

She didn’t recognize my (new to me) car when we pulled in, so when Sicily and I walked up to her and said hello, she looked up with a blank face before she recognized who we were and a look of what can only be described as sheer delight spread across her features.  She said, “I was waiting for someone, and here you are!”

We should all be greeted with such an unabashed and open display of pleasure.

I have an unexpectedly close relationship with my grandmother, as does The Child. Through letters I have learned what her life has been, and in person I get to know this person in whom I see so much of myself. She takes joy in seeing her great-grandchildren and has vowed to live until they are all safely ensconced in college; because of this, we do not share The Child’s plans for a gap year, and we are selective about the information we share in general. She likes to know we are happy and recovered from “Dane’s incident,” “that unfortunate time” when he died in a car accident. We talk about the weather, and food, and she worries about the stock market.

Our visit was short, as it usually is. My grandmother is spry and quick still, but tired in the way that people approaching 100 can be, I suppose, after a long walk outside and a rest in the sun. On the way back to her room, we stopped in the residents’ garden plot to look at the produce, and I ended up with a bellyful of sun-sweet cherry tomatoes and a bag full of green tomatoes for later.

I haven’t had fried green tomatoes in a dog’s age. The last time was in a diner in the south, someplace below the fall line in southern Georgia. I have few fond memories of our 13 years living in that place, but southern food is one of them. It’s a foodway that uses scraps and makes do, and it seems to mesh perfectly with my grandmother’s Depression era philosophy:

Make do;

Do without;

Use it up;

Wear it out.

These recipes are a mash of that sensibility plus new-to-me flavors and foods. I have been mildly obsessed with arepas since White Envelope came to town, and enjoying smoky foods is also new to me. I advise adding any or all of these condiments and toppings liberally to each arepa. You can certainly mix and match. The recipe for Mushroom Bacon is not my own, so I am linking it here.

Fried green tomato arepa with mushroom bacon and chipotle mayonnaise.

For the record, I don’t believe in calling non-meat things a meat name, but this is how the original person wrote the recipe, so I am going with that. It is delicious but does not in any way resemble bacon. I chopped it up after it was all done, and that was the easiest to eat.

There is also the basic recipe for arepas themselves, plus Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I have gone back and forth as to whether or not to include my Pimento Cheese recipe and have decided, at the very last minute, to hold that back. You can use a store-bought variety, or use your own recipe. That shizz deserves its own post, and it’s worth the wait. #Trust

Bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato arepa with chipotle mayonnaise.

I am pretty sure that when you present your people with any of these combinations they will gaze up at you with sheer delight as well.

Arepas With Assorted Delicious FIllings, Not The Least Of Which Is Fried Green Tomatoes and Chipotle Mayo with Bacon 

If you want to try all of these recipes, make them in the following order: Chipotle Mayonnaise (the night before, even), Pimento Cheese (if making your own), Mushroom Bacon, Arepas, and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

As with everything, adjust amounts to taste, but here’s the basic formula. Make this the night before.

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (or sour cream – whatever is in the ‘fridge)

3 teaspoons lime juice

3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon stone ground prepared mustard

Method

Mix all ingredients together (I use a Mason jar – no clean up). Store in ‘fridge and use on damn near everything.

Arepas (makes 8 arepas)

Ingredients

2 cups masarepa (see Recipe Notes)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cup warm water

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix masarepa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add warm water and mix until smooth. Use 1/3 cup measure to divide dough into eight balls and shape into disks that are 1/2″ thick and about 3″ wide.

Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working four at a time, fry the arepas on each side until golden brown, about four minutes each side. Transfer to cooling rack and fry the other four arepas.

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes or until arepas sound hollow. Turn off the oven and leave arepas to cool and crisp.

Recipe Notes

  • You cannot use regular masa for this recipe, and the addition of baking powder makes it not quite traditional. But of the eleventy million times it seems like I have made these, this formula produced a creamy interior with a crispy shell. So there it is. You can find masarepa in most Latino grocery stores, occasional in a mainstream grocery store, and always online.

Fried Green Tomatoes

There really is no better way to use up those stubborn, lingering tomatoes clinging to the vine than Fried Green Tomatoes. If you aren’t a fan, take your green tomatoes, stick them in a cardboard box, and set them someplace cool. Check on them every now and then; they will gradually ripen and be just as sweet and delicious as the ones from the vine. Remove mushy ones fast; they really will spoil the whole bunch.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (for eight sandwiches, I used four medium ones), sliced into 1/4″ rounds

1 cup soured milk (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup flour (I use gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup cornmeal

Salt and pepper

Method

Slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Some people salt them at this point to draw out the moisture, but not me. I let them sit on the towels and blot them dry.

Place a cooling rack on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ of oil over medium heat.

Set up your breading station, left to right (or right to left if you are left handed): one dish of flour, one dish of milk, one dish of cornmeal.

Controversial direction #1: I do not season my flour. I season the tomatoes directly. Many will take issue with this. I don’t care. Do it however you choose. 

When your oil is hot, salt and pepper your tomatoes. Dip into flour, shaking off the excess, then soured milk, and finally cornmeal. Fry until golden brown on both sides (approximately four minutes total, but the temperature of your oil will dictate this a bit).

Controversial direction #2: Do not drain your fried tomatoes on paper towels. This will make them soggy. Remove them from the oil to your cooling rack over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. If your oil was the correct temperature, the breading will not absorb too much, and this keeps them crispy. My grandmother drains hers on paper towels, but as Oprah says: When you know better, you do better.

Recipe Notes

  • Many recipes call for buttermilk, but if you don’t regularly drink it, you will end up with extra that just sits in the ‘fridge. To make your own, add one tablespoon of white vinegar to each cup of milk, stir, and let sit for ten minutes. Voila.

Assembly

Slice arepas down as you would a pita pocket; it’s up to you if you slice all the way through or treat them like a pocket.

Slip in a fried green tomato or two and then go from there. Favorite combos pictured above are: Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Mayo; Fried Green Tomatoes With Pimento Cheese; Fried Green Tomato With Mushroom Bits, Pimento Cheese, Lettuce, and Chipotle. Any or all of these are delicious. Fresh herbs like maybe a little parsley or cilantro are also delicious.

If you want something simple and don’t have time for any fuss, just use pimento cheese and let it get all melty. So. Freaking. Delicious.