Blackberry Crumble

Blackberry Crumble

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If there is one thing I love to learn about others, it is their preferences for and memories involving food. I’ve shared much of my history with food and cooking in this space already but this month, The Recipe Redux asked us to stir up some of our earliest culinary recollections.

Instead of rehashing how it all began, I’m reposting a very slightly edited version of what I wrote then with a little note about this month’s recipe at the end.

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“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you.”
                                                     – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke 
 
 
 
The truth is, the beginning is blurry. When I squint back into the depths of my childhood, my thoughts were not long off of food. I would take cookbooks to bed at night, scrunching my eyes into the flashlight-shadows, long after my sister had demanded I put our shared, bunk-bedded room into darkness. Looking back at the shy, quiet, anxious little person that I was then, I recall only that I felt most at home in the kitchen. I still do.
 
It began then, I think, with playdough. My mom mixed up homemade playdough. I remember seeing the recipe on a worn index card in her gray metal recipe box, a box that to this day holds her most cherished recipes. There were two recipes in that box that were beyond intriguing to my child-mind:  elephant ears and playdough. The first was something that I had never considered could be made outside of a hot, steamy, trailer-kitchen at the county fair. The second was the only non-food recipe that I’ve ever known my mom to have on hand. I must have asked her, and she mixed up a batch for us. I don’t remember much after beyond the whirl of the mixer blades, and the fact that my mom brought me into the kitchen, handed me the measuring cups, and taught me fractions.
 
 
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From that moment when I learned to turn on the mixer, to scoop flour into the measuring cups, to follow recipe instructions, up to now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve been most at home in any place surrounded by food. It fascinates me in its cultural symbolism, use as a socio-economic tool and weapon, as a medicine to heal, as a draw to family gatherings and entire holiday celebrations, and most importantly, in its most simple form as basic sustenance for the hunger in all of us.
 
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In those simple childhood days, those most-remembered foods symbolize the dearly loved and oft-hated. My favorites from that gray box included our neighbor’s recipe for honey-cinnamon swirl rolls,  my mom’s homemade bread, and leftover-oatmeal cookies with just the right amount of spice. There was my favorite breakfast, dad’s “stinkbug porridge”, which was a simple concoction of raisins and brown sugar. And then the fresh milk from our cow, Betsy, with flakes of cream floating amongst my morning cheerios. I had to plug my nose to get the milk down after staying an extra hour at the table gathering the resolve to drink it. Now looking back, I realize what a precious experience to have been raised in a place where our milk came right from the cow.

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 In this new season and new beginning of sorts, I am reminded of how I am drawn to food as a means of communication and connection. I am reminded of the beginning, how I learned in the kitchen with my mom and the whirl of the blender blades that are still in her cupboard today. I am reminded that food is special, and that when I go into myself, as Rilke suggests, the only answer I come back with is, yes, I must create.
 
Though I no longer enjoy thick slices of my mom’s bread, or partake in flecks of cream floating in cow’s milk, I hold in my heart and in my cooking a focus on good, simple, nourishing food, in whatever way it can be most enjoyed. I am looking forward to this season to come, and the creations it will bring.
 
 

 Now tell me, what is one of your first memories in the kitchen?

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Blackberry Crumble, serves 4-6
As I indicated above, I began creating with baked goods, and having grown up in an area rich with agriculture and with grandparents that often brought fruit from their own or nearby orchards, baking frequently involved fruit. Crumbles or crisps were an often chosen and easily made dessert that were devoured in a matter of spoonfuls. This one involves blackberries because today happens to be a special someone’s birthday and William requests blackberry desserts annually (or one of its many cousins in the form of boysen or marionberries). Hence, a late September blackberry recipe makes its way into this space nearly every year.

For this recipe, there are a couple options in the way of sweetening and using the oil. For the berries, opt for one tablespoon honey if you’re working on limiting sugar consumption, or don’t tend to eat much sugar, like me. If on the other hand, you do eat sugary sweets regularly, like William, opt for two tablespoons honey and you’ll likely be a little more satisfied. Likewise, we tend to find coconut oil a bit too overpowering in crumbles and pies (even refined coconut oil), and prefer a more neutral flavored oil like canola instead so the blackberry flavor can shine through. I know some particularly like the coconut flavor, so if that’s more your speed, opt for coconut oil instead.    

4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbs. honey (see notes)

Crumble Topping:
2 cups rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary
6 Tbs. sorghum flour
1/4 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil (see notes)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the berries in a baking dish and toss with vanilla, lemon juice and honey.
  • Prepare the crumble in a separate bowl. Start by mixing oats, sorghum flour, salt and vanilla.
  • Then add the canola or melted coconut oil and honey. Use a spoon or your hands to mix until combined. With your fingers, crumble the filling evenly over the berries.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown.

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summer quinoa salad with zucchini, eggplant, green beans + tomatoes

summer quinoa salad with zucchini, eggplant, green beans + tomatoes

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Even though I am no longer a teacher, there is something about the beginning of the school year that gets me excited for a fresh start, eager minds, clean hallways, and a newly decorated classroom. And so it was when I walked the hallways of the elementary school I work with this last week. Even though I’ve been there all summer with my high school students managing the school garden, the teachers are back now and the place is slowly coming to life after its summer slumber. There are fresh new beginnings in the air.

At the same time, the internship I created for my students ended this week, and so marks the last time I will work with this particular summer program, as I too am beginning to close the chapter of my work in school garden education. It has been a journey and a learning experience, and I can say on the other end of three+ years, I’m glad I trusted my intuition in taking the risky position that is my job, as it didn’t start out being financially sustainable and there was much jostling back and forth with funding cuts and uncertainty in the in-between. And so it’s kind of ironic that now on the other side, I am choosing to walk away from the work not having the future months figured out, but with an awareness that I won’t know what comes next until I take this step.

Beyond all learning and experience I have gained from the actual work, maybe the biggest lesson I have learned since stepping in to the “real world” of work, is how to trust that feeling of needing to close the book and walk away, even as it has been enjoyable, safe, comfortable, and I’ve been part of an amazing and cohesive team.

 

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With all this in mind, I think it is fitting to share a recipe here that was first schemed up in the school garden surrounded by all the vegetables we were harvesting that day and adapted in the moment according to my students’ preferences. Each week of the summer, they have been cooking in the garden one afternoon and providing samples to their CSA customers utilizing whatever produce is in abundance that week. In this late summer season, everything is going full throttle and so this salad has a little of everything. There are random little pops of sweet like ground cherries balancing the creamy leeks and crunchy beans. There were a few hazelnuts leftover from another week that provided more texture, directly opposite of the squishier quality of the eggplant and zucchini. And there was a lemon in the fridge that needed to be used and from it, we all enjoyed the lemon-Dijon dressing. All in all, this became a showcase of all the summer vegetables and everyone that tried it–whether high school student or adult–loved it.

 

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summer quinoa salad with zucchini, eggplant, green beans + tomatoes, serves 4

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

extra virgin olive oil

2 small leeks, thinly sliced

1 lb. green beans, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 small zucchini, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup ground cherries

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped or halved

Dressing:
2 tsp. Dijon mustard, preferably coarse grained

2 tsp. honey

juice from ½ a large lemon

2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. olive oil

sea salt & black pepper

  1. In a medium saucepan, add quinoa and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, add a splash of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and the leeks. Cook, stirring regularly until leeks are golden and crispy, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. At this point, stir in the summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes and then add the green beans. Cook a bit longer – just until the beans brighten up and lose their raw bite and the squash softens.
  4. Turn out into a bowl and stir in the ground cherries, tomatoes, raisins, hazelnuts, and cooked quinoa.
  5. Make the dressing by whisking together the mustard and honey. Add lemon juice, vinegar, and oil and whisk for about 30 seconds. Add salt and pepper according to taste.
  6. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and stir until everything is well mixed.

Curried Tofu and Apricot Chutney with Basmati Rice

Curried Tofu and Apricot Chutney with Basmati Rice

 

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I was at my Food Action Team meeting the other day and the intro question was posed, what is your favorite way to cook tofu? Admittedly, I am a somewhat newbie when it comes to making tofu. I’ve only (mostly) mastered it in the last year or so and I still turn to cookbooks for ideas on the best way to get the texture down. I know I’ve done a somewhat good job when William, who like me had decided he did not like it, has really taken to it. A few hours before sharing at my food group about how I made this tasty baked tofu using a dry rub (a new method for me), I received a text from William about how tasty his tofu lunch leftovers were. He’ll only eat leftovers if they were particularly good the first time.

The whole idea that I’d be sharing a great way to cook tofu around a kitchen table with a few long-time vegetarians listening in is slightly humorous. I’ve been getting a lot of messages lately about not being afraid to be myself and I’ve been hearing them loud and clear. Eleven years ago, I was the girl who was proudly sporting a homemade PETA (People for the Eating of Tasty Animals) shirt around my high school. I wasn’t into eating a whole lot more meat then than I do now, but as president of my FFA chapter, having just sold the champion market steer at the county fair, and having been nicknamed the Queen of Agriculture by some of my teachers, I guess I thought I had an image to uphold. Or I really wasn’t in touch with myself.

The biggest lesson I am slowing learning is how to let go of the long-standing public face I put on that either does things to uphold a standard/appease my community or alternatively (and more often) closes down and reveals nothing. Instead, I’d like to put more effort into getting curious, saying yes to new experiences and people, trying new foods I’ve deemed off limits or don’t like, and maybe not be so guarded when others want to be let in. I might stumble and fail for a while but like my experience with tofu, there’s the strong possibility that eventually I’ll get it right.

 

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This whole tofu experience was inspired by Runnin SriLankan, a fellow Recipe Redux blogger. Since this happens to be The Recipe Redux’s birthday month, we’re celebrating by making or getting inspired by each other’s recipes.

Shashi shared her Curried Mango Pork Chops a while ago, and my creative juices were immediately flowing to remake the whole thing into a rice and tofu bowl with a curried fruit chutney when our local summer stone fruits come into season. I’ve been super anticipating the local apricots which are available here at the beginning of summer so the apricots are a key component. Made into a savory-sweet chutney, spiced up with notes of curry powder and smoked paprika, and served alongside rice, carrot curls, and dark leafy greens, this is a really lovely meal for either a weeknight or a slower weekend evening.

Enjoy!

 

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Curried Tofu and Apricot Chutney with Basmati Rice, serves 4

Cooked Brown Basmati Rice

2-3 large carrots

1 large bunch kale or other greens

1 lb. firm or extra-firm tofu

Dry Rub:

1 tsp. smoked paprika

2 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

Apricot Chutney:

3/4 tsp. curry powder

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1-2 Tbs. honey

2 cups diced apricots (about 6)

Directions:

  1. In a small dish, combine the dry rub spices and set aside.
  2. Drain and press the tofu for at least 30 minutes. Then, slice it into cubes. Lay out in a single layer in a baking dish and then toss the dry rub to coat all sides.
  3. Bake the tofu in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, stirring/flipping the cubes halfway through.
  4. While the tofu is baking, make the chutney in a small saucepan by adding the diced apricots, curry powder, paprika, ginger, raisins, vinegar, salt, and honey together. Bring to a simmer and allow the ingredients to meld together and become thick. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. While the chutney is simmering and tofu is baking, use a vegetable peeler to make long curls with 2-3 carrots. Set aside and chop the kale or other greens.
  6. Remove the tofu from the oven when crisp-baked and then serve with rice, carrots, greens, and a spoonful (or several) of apricot chutney.