30 years of asparagus

I've spent the last week wondering where the month of May went.  Much happened this May.  But how could we possibly be entering into June?  I spent the last two days in the sun and water.  

Oh hey, welcome, summer.  I hadn't noticed you there.

That being said, we have plenty of spring veg to still enjoy.  Such wonderful vegetables in such a short time.  When I think of the farmers market in spring, I think of one thing: asparagus.  For the six or so weeks that it's available (meaning, fresh and seasonal), I eat as much as I can.  I get this from my mom. Mostly I love asparagus roasted or grilled with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  It is asparagus, that stately soldier of spring, in it's purest and most delicious form.  But I've had this lovely little recipe for an asparagus tart milling about the kitchen for ages.  I tore it out of the newspaper once, captivated by it's rustic beauty.  It is simple and easy and a delicious taste of May.    The pastry puffs up nicely around the edges, framing the asparagus in all it's glory - roasting tenderly as the chevre browns and sets.

I suggest you set a date for your local farmer's market this weekend and get a move on. You haven't got much time.

Asparagus Chevre Tart
Adapted from the Chicago Sun Times
Makes 6-8 servings

5 ounces chevre (goat cheese)
1 egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
10 grinds fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
a bunch of asparagus
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted per package instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine chevre, egg, cream, pepper, and salt in a small bowl.  Snap off the bottoms of the asparagus.  Unwrap the puff pastry and place on a sheet tray lined with parchment.  Place asparagus spears on opposite ends of the puff pastry (short side), about 1/2 inch from end.  Using the spears as a guide, spread the cheese mixture from center of the dough outward into a rectangle, stopping at the spears (mixture may be runny, so be prepared for some spillage).  Lay remaining asparagus spears on top of filling, alternating tips and ends.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until asparagus are tender and pastry is golden brown.  Allow to cool slightly and serve.

PS.  Today is May 29, 2012.  And my parents' 30th wedding anniversary.  My sister and brother and I put together a little card with a collection of memories and "thanksgivings." Did you know that my mom and dad once invited a homeless man to join us for Christmas? I'll never forget that.  Or that when I was living in another hemisphere I was missing autumn so much that my mom sent it to me in an envelope (well, in essence)?  One summer, we spent a month in a pop-up camper together, driving the east coast.  My dad loves to watch Pride and Prejudice with me.  They have taught me how to love and be loved. They showed the world that a family can grow up to be the best of friends.  

And they eat lots of asparagus with me.  

It's been an age of wonders.  Here's to 30.  May the next be filled with as many marvels, as much beauty, and far more joy.


It keeps me up at night

Hi from here.
It's been a week of good, bad, and everything in between.
But in this moment?  It's good.  It's whole.  And it's beautiful.
I've learned I need to keep a keen eye out for these moments.  They can easily slip right by you.  Especially if you're all too aware of the not-so-good.  Which I have been lately.

I'm sitting in one of my favorite cafes.  It's 70 degrees and gorgeous in Chicago.  And I have the day off.  Bliss.

I was working on this writing piece for my brother and some friends who work for this amazing little international organization that helps make the world a better place.  They are in the midst of applying for all these grants and asked me to help them put together a summary of the organization's ministry.  The question they gave me was this:

Tell us, in a few paragraphs, how your ministry gives life to those you serve.

As I was writing, I kept coming back to that question.  Life-giving.  
I wonder...how does my ministry give life to those I serve?

I am one who believes that ministry is in the everyday, that I am meant to somehow serve in my daily movements.  So how is my everyday giving life to those around me?  I feel like I've been rather sucked of life lately, so how could I possibly offer it to others.  

I don't know if you're familiar with John Green.  I mentioned one of his books a while ago, the Fault in Our Stars, which is positively amazing.  Anyway, he has a little online community of "nerdfighters" and their motto is:  We fight to increase awesomeness and decrease suck.

I love that.  But I'm not always very good at it.

I have this app on my dashboard from TED Talks, one big question everyday.  The question that popped up the other day was:  

What brings you JOY?

Which reminded me of this verse I recently read in the Gospel of John:  "Abide in my love. That my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."

So I've been thinking about joy and life-giving and increasing awesomeness and decreasing suck.  It keeps me up at night.

In the mean time, my vegetables are in the ground.  They seem rather happy to be there. There's even a baby green pepper on it's way.  Also, our farmer's market opens this weekend.  Which does indeed bring me joy.


May 5, 2012

Something kind of BIG and GREAT and really quite small happened this week.
Welcome to the world, Silas Aaron.

Isn't he just the best?!  For weeks now, people have been telling me how amazing it is to become an aunt/uncle - that it's incredibly special, unique, and makes you a different kind of you.  I didn't really get it until May 5, 2012.  

Cinco de Mayo Silas, as I like to call him.  And he shares his Mexican style birthday with his dad.  I'm seeing burritos in his future.  My sister brought a huge Mexican flag to decorate the hospital room with.  I think this may have confused the nurses, clearly not in tune with their international holidays.  We ate Chipotle in celebration of the Mexican victory on Cinco de Mayo.  And my brother.  Oh, and baby Silas.

It's amazing.  This new person in the world.  I was at the patisserie Saturday morning, anxiously awaiting the end of my shift so I could race to the hospital to meet the little bugger.  One of our regulars came in, an older man, who usually comes with his wife.     Typically, he settles his wife at the table and orders for them up at the counter.  She was clearly quite ill.  I've watched him speak to her, but she never responded or engaged.  He spoke to her all the same, like any normal conversation.  When he came in on Saturday, he was alone.  After a while he approached me and said he wanted the Sugar Fixe staff to know that his wife had passed away just days ago.  

The Master of the Universe embraces one life and offers another.  The great exchange. The endless ebb and flow of beings.  One man mourns, another rejoices.  

I want to teach Silas what it is to mourn and rejoice together.  With grace and peace, and always, in thanksgiving.


It seemed only right

I've been eating a lot of salad lately.  Which, I love.  No seriously, I really do love a good green salad.  But today was my day off, and I decided it was time to change things up.  If you didn't already know, I like to bake on my day off.  It helps me procrastinate doing laundry or going for a long run, and there's just something about it that heals and inspires.  

After a quick glance in our freezer last night, I discovered a few very brown and very ripe bananas - dying to be made into banana bread!  I immediately thought of Molly Wizenburg, who writes about banana bread nearly every month on her blog.  It seemed only right that I use one of her recipes.  

I've made her Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar before, and it is, truly, delicious.  But I was convinced to try the Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping when I read "this one is daintier and more balanced, closer to cake."  I love a bread/cake that is dainty and well-balanced.  But I also love chocolate.  I couldn't help myself. Somehow a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips made their way into my loaf.  

Last week I had a stellar meal of a hard-boiled egg, a fresh baguette with brie, and a green salad with peppers, red onion, feta, and cucumber.   A very European, oui, very French style spread.  My favorite way to eat, really.  But today, it was all about the banana bread.  Who doesn't have brown bananas in their freezer taking up space, anyway?  

Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping
Adapted from Bakesale Betty and Bon App├ętit, September 2008

For bread:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 medium bananas)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup honey
¼ cup water

For topping:
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 ½ Tbsp. packed dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 9- x 5-inch metal loaf pan. (Alternatively, you can spray the pan lightly with cooking spray and then line it with parchment paper, letting the excess hang over the sides. That’s what I did, and it made it very easy to remove the finished bread from the pan; I just grabbed the parchment and lifted.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the banana, eggs, oil, honey, and water. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir well. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients. Sprinkle them evenly over the batter.

Bake the bread until a tester inserted into its center comes out clean, about 1 hour, give or take a little. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then carefully remove the bread from the pan, taking care not to dislodge the topping. Cool completely before slicing.

Yield: 1 loaf