Summer's finale, her crown of jewels

If there's one things that marks the end of summer besides the deafening buzz of cicadas, it's zucchini in abundance.  If your zucchini plants are as healthy as mine, than you're in the same predicament as me.  I think I've made 4 or 5 different recipes of zucchini bread - one that was dry, one with cocoa, one with chocolate chips, and my recent favorite made with orange marmalade.  It's a lovely little recipe I discovered tucked in amongst the array of gorgeous pastry in the Tartine baking book.  There are dozens of other recipes to try, most far more decadent than a humble zucchini bread.  My visit to the Tartine Bakery in San Francisco last spring was the culinary highlight of my year.  So I figured, if anyone has a recipe for my burgeoning veg, it's Tartine.  The marmalade adds an extra level of moisture and flavor.  For the breads, I usually scrape out the seeds and the mealy center portion of the zucchini (especially if it is long and fat), grating it with skin on for extra nutrients and those lovely specks of green.

Zucchini Tea Cake with Orange Marmalade
Yields 1 large loaf

1 3/4 cups + 2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 T vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange marmalade (or apricot jam!)
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 t sea salt
1 cups chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)
sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly oil and flour the bottom and sides of a loaf pan, knocking out the excess flour.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon into a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, sugar, and marmalade until combined.  Add the zucchini and salt and again beat until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.  Add the nuts if using and mix until incorporated.

Transfer batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface.  Sprinkle evenly with the sugar.  Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes.  Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, and then turn out the bread from the pan.  Let cool completely on rack before slicing.

NOTE:  You can prep the ingredients ahead of time, but you must bake off the batter as soon as it is mixed.  Otherwise, the sugar macerates with the zucchini, which pulls out all the moisture, giving you a very watery batter.

Even with all this summer squash, I've been enjoying the last fruits of summer at the farmer's market.  August is a time of plenty for the fruit and veg farmers.  Their piles of produce are breathtakingly beautiful and I couldn't help but capture some of their abundance.

We owe all this color and plenty in part to the work of the dear honeybee, who have been hard at work all summer.  We looked in on our own family of bees just recently.  Would you like to meet our queen?  Our little hive has been battling their way through this hot, draught-ridden summer, struggling to produce much of anything.  We were a little worried because their progress has been slow, but it's always reassuring to spot the queen - she is the center of their little bee world.  See if you can spot her on the below frame - she's just above that little patch of empty cells at about 10 o'clock.  You can't miss her, with her long torso and gilded crown.


Let's go do that together

There's a difference between knowing something and knowing someone.  You may know and believe and understand a particular subject or matter, but it is another thing altogether when there is a someone connected to that thing.  It's incredibly easy to make up your mind one way or the other about an issue when you don't personally know anyone connected to it.  But a relationship is far more complex.

I've realized the further you are from people, the easier it is to keep things black and white.  The moment a human relationship enters the picture, all the lines grey.  The more removed you are from a subject, the more likely that the conclusion you've come to about it/them, may not be quite right.

Knowing people has always been really important to me.  It's how my family has always operated.  My parent's taught me to think about issues as they related to real people.  And for that I am forever grateful.  But I think it is only with age that I have truly begun to understand the value of this way of thinking  Any conclusions I may have made about belief or politics or lifestyle have been completely shattered the moment I met that belief/opinion face-to-face.  It is a deeply transformative and humbling experience.  And I think it is a far richer, more authentic way of living.

The flipside to all this is, once you become aware of the need to know someone in order to know something, you start realizing how much of what you see and read and hear is surmised millions of miles away from a true relationship.  The danger of this is how quickly it can lead to judgment and critique.  Sadly, we are a judgmental people and it takes diligence and intentionality to move with grace instead.  

I guess the solution then is to broaden our circles of relationships.  Our tendency is to surround ourselves with likeminded people.  Which is good - it's exhausting to be the only one.  A friend of mine just returned from a trip to an area of the US that has a very concentrated population of thinkers - good thinkers, mind you, but very much the same.  She remarked how good and lovely it was but how anxious she was to get back to the city, back to a diverse community of thought and lifestyle.  I thought that was incredibly wise.

The hard part comes in being open to a change in what you may have always thought to be right.  Maybe even the opposite of what you thought before.  Or maybe you had it right all along.  I'm not so sure we'll really know until much later.  And later, it probably won't matter.  It may not even all matter now.  So be careful how much weight you shoulder behind those opinions.  And if you're not sure, my instinct is to just listen.  I'd rather listen and learn something, than speak and miss out on something truly magical.


The Madonnas

I've been reading this great little book.  A literary gem, The Madonnas of Leningrad.  It's about a woman who works as a docent in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad and suddenly finds herself in the terrible fall of 1941.  Germany is on Russia's doorstep and the masterpieces of the Hermitage are quickly crated and shipped off for safekeeping.  The empty frames are left on the walls as a symbol of hope that the paintings will return. The faithful docent, Marina, builds a "memory palace," her own personal Hermitage - holding each of the paintings in her mind.  The city is littered with snow-covered rubble and ghosts of what once was.  As Marina recalls the Madonnas, her city turns to dust.

"No one weeps anymore, or if they do, it is over small things, inconsequential moments that catch them unprepared.  What is left that is heartbreaking?  Not death: death is ordinary.  What is heartbreaking is the sight of a single gull lifting effortlessly from a street lamp.  Its wings unfurl like silk scarves against the mauve sky, and Marina hears the rustle of its feathers.  What is heartbreaking is that there is still beauty in the world."

I can remember studying many a Madonna and many a pieta in my art history classes.  I don't suppose I thought much of it then.  20th century art history was far more relevant to my art practice than the Italian classics.  I have no idea what it is like to experience death as ordinary, and so I don't think I have near the insight into Mary's plight that Marina of Leningrad has.  Marina watches her uncle succumb to sickness and starvation. Her aunt cradles his shrunken body and she is reminded of Veronese's Pieta,  a 16th century Italian masterpiece depicting an emaciated Christ hanging in the arms of Mary. She had thought the light and drama exaggerated, but there it was.

My little guy, Silas, was baptized yesterday.  His sweet little face surprised as water dripped from his head.  Watching Jody hold Silas as he was baptized, it reminded me of Da Vinci's Madonna and Child from the Hermitage.  A young girl with a holy child.  Like Marina's pieta, there it was: an Italian master's 15th century madonna and child in the flesh.  A story of redemption: from the Madonna and Child to the Pieta and back again.