Eat your greens, or don’t

Reader, I very much intended to write this post about “eating green.” To share with you a favorite recipe, made with ingredients lovingly culled from my garden. To wax poetic—and wane self-satisfied—about the pleasures of living off your land and its leaves. But when I went to the kitchen this morning, what I wanted was something with a little less leaf and a little more starch; and what I did, instead, was make an IKEA bread mix. (Which really is a thing that exists.)

Here’s how it went, and why.

Not long ago, my husband and I were at the New Haven, Connecticut, IKEA. Not that the location is of any importance; apart from the profusion of Yale bumper stickers, we could have been in Brooklyn, or Philadelphia, or, I guess, Paramus. It was an IKEA, with all its things bright and not-terribly beautiful. I’m not quite sure what we came for—or if we left with it—but in any case, we found ourselves at the Marketplace checkout (there are these cookies…), behind a couple buying approximately twelve boxes of “Brödmix Flerkorn.” (See.) Obviously, we were intrigued, and we said as much to the cashier—who informed us that yes, those two came in every Sunday morning for their stock of bread, that maybe it was a church thing. Huh.

We really had no choice but to buy a box of our own, which has since sat untouched on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. Which brings us to today. As per ikea.com, the “key features” of this particular product are: “A full-bodied multigrain bread kit – just add water! Serve with butter and optional toppings.” And that, in essentia, is all there is to it. I added water and stirred, baked for sixty minutes and let cool for ten. So, then? Well, it turned out exactly as you’d imagine an IKEA bread mix would. Not inedible, though certainly not good; just, totally fine—in a fibrous sort of way. Significantly better topped with beurre salé and Bonne Maman (because as long as we’re flying international…).

There’s a metaphor here, to be sure. Something about life’s great ship—destinations and detours and delights found therein; the co-passengers who give shape to our mornings and so give meaning to our lives. But I haven’t had enough coffee to really take it across the finish line, and so instead I’ll just go with: Girl’s gotta eat. She does, I do, and I did.

Greens with dinner, then.

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Photo

The Great Zucchini

Growing up, I spent a week or so of every summer at the Shore. Often, this very week—which I know because we’d be sitting in the den, in front of the old tube TV, wondering whether Agassi or Sampras would take Wimbledon that year.

By the Shore, of course, I mean the New Jersey Shore; and if you grew up somewhere between Fairfield and Philadelphia, then you can probably picture the scene. The drive along the Garden State Parkway that, for reasons unclear, may take either two or six hours—and if the latter, will make you question every life choice that has led you to this moment. Counting the water towers. Wondering at the exit sign for Cheesequake State Park. (Not a typo; this is a true thing.) Lunch at *that one* rest stop. The abating traffic, but then, the slow crawl across the Manahawkin Bay Bridge. And finally, finally the island—all surf shops and snack bars and houses just awakened, after spring.

My grandparents had a Victorian on the southern end of LBI that was both very beautiful and very old. A white exterior, with black shutters and a sweeping front porch; a driveway of smooth, pale stones. So many rooms—all, somehow, filled. Indoor bathtubs but outdoor showers (character!). Central air: a thing for other people, somewhere else. There were twelve bedrooms that they had rented to college kids in the seventies (stories, there), but by the time their children were grown and had children of their own, they were ours alone. And in late June or early July, my family and my mother’s siblings and their families would all descend on the house like so many fireflies.

There’s so much from those years that I remember, still. Boogie boards dragged to the beach. Patches of dune grass. The hammock. The mosquitos. Late afternoon bike rides, and skinned knees.

My grandmother’s zucchini bread—wrapped in foil on the kitchen table, waiting for you, for whenever you might arrive.

I keep a small collection of her recipes with me, and there are a few that I always return to—vegetable lasagna, oatmeal muffins, banana bread. The zucchini bread that she made those summers at the Shore, though, is one I’ve left untouched. I’m not quite sure why. But yesterday afternoon, I stumbled on the recipe and got to work; and, without meaning to sound too sanctimonious, if you put one thing into your oven this week, it should be this one. (Good Lord. The smell alone.) I wish I could say that the zucchini came fresh from my garden; but hey, maybe next year.

I hope you’ll enjoy this recipe that, for me, means family and salty air and slow, simple living—summer, in a word.

Ebbie’s Zucchini Bread
Makes two loaves.

Ingredients
• 3 cups flour*
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup canola oil
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 cups peeled (or unpeeled) and grated zucchini
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. baking powder

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
2. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix until blended.
3. Fill pans with batter.
4. Bake for one hour.

*I used whole wheat because it’s what we keep around the house, but all-purpose should do just fine.

//

Notes on a garden, which is to say on a life

You wake up so early. 4:50. The cats. Soft steps and then, closer, a tearing. The curtain above your nightstand. It’s fine, you think. You turn to the right and see that your husband is stirring, will make them breakfast. Small blessings. Ten feet, then—eight, smaller and light. You think of how you like to joke, Practice; night feedings. You feel your husband ease back into bed, the covers tightening across your shoulders, and you turn over again, to the left. Fold into something small. Close your eyes.

You open them and glance at your phone, and it’s already (only) 5:23. You read an e-mail, set the phone down. You’re half-asleep, and your mind is ticking through the real process of awakening—the bathroom, the walk downstairs, the lifting of blinds. And so you do those things. You look out the window as the coffee starts, and there is so much fog. You can barely see past the yard. You rest your eyes there, then. Everything is green. You’ve let the grass go too long, and the flowerbeds need care—pruning, weeding, re-planting. Whatever it is that needs to be done for a garden. (Which is? You wonder.) Your husband said last week, as you crouched over so many tendrils, puzzled, “Isn’t anything you don’t like a weed?” You’re not sure that’s right, but then, maybe.

You make a list for the day. Water the hanging plants (impatiens, not impatients, you’ve learned)—one so withered from the sun, you’re not sure it’ll live; but you’ll hope. Mow the lawn. You don’t linger too long on that. Maybe you’ll pick up the sticks. So many; the rain. Find food for the roses out front. (Something they need, you’ve learned. Something organic.) You look inside the cabinets, see baking powder, apple cider vinegar; you’ll need to go to the store. You will. You wonder why the hydrangeas haven’t bloomed. (They should have, by now, right?) You’ll want to bring something from the garden indoors. A few roses, clipped, in a mason jar. You’ll place them somewhere high. The cats.

6:43. You’re here with your husband, in the kitchen. “More coffee?” he asks, and you shake your head, No. It’s raining again. Maybe the yard work will have to wait, till the afternoon, till tomorrow. You peer into the refrigerator, see carrots, think, I’ll make those muffins again. You’re hungry, after all. Your cats traipse in, sit beside you, look through the sliding glass door. You do, too. The fog is thick but the sky is lighter now—like an elephant? Something like that. It’s so quiet, only the birds. You set down your list, close your eyes, don’t think too far ahead. Just. Here I am, in this house, with the person I love on this still Sunday morning. And that’s enough.

You set out the mixing bowl. Crack an egg. Stir.

For the curious and the hungry:

Carrot Oatmeal Greek Yogurt Muffins
Yields twelve.
Best served with coffee and blooms, preferably au lit.

Ingredients
• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose {or whole wheat} flour
• 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
• 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
• 2 tbsp maple syrup {or honey}
• 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1/2 cup raisins {optional}

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350F and prepare a muffin pan by lining the cavities with paper liners or greasing them with cooking spray or oil. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until they become slightly frothy before whisking in the yogurt, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla. Mix until well combined before folding in the grated carrots.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently until just combined. Add raisins, if desired.
5. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling almost to the top.
6. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for ~5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

*Recipe adapted from Amanda’s at Running with Spoons.