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I recently attended a BLT party and brought along my own vegan bacon like strips. Who are we kidding? It tastes nothing like bacon. 

Nevertheless, I do love the tree ingredient sandwich: especially when it is served with Gayle’s local bakery sourdough bread, red oak leaf, butter and Romain lettuce varieties and seven different kinds of farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes.

  
Heirloom Tomatoes, photo by Daniella Woolf.

I got lucky after the party and came home with leftover tomatoes. Kim says, “Daniella invites fifteen, but prepares food for fifty.” I am the same; I like to feed people and send them home with leftovers. 

I ate a few more three ingredient sandwiches until the ingredients dwindled from two to one. I still had lots of tomatoes. Then, a friend plucked some wide purple blue kale and I knew what to do with the remaining tomatoes. I pulled out walnuts, kale, the delicious tomatoes and linguine. 

Roasting a 3/4 cup of finely chopped walnuts in olive oil to release their aroma, I mixed in 3 Tablespoons of Stonehouse Farms Napa Valley Blend spices, and about two cups diced tomatoes. Sautéing them briefly, I added about 16 ounces of my favorite marinara sauce: Mezzetta Italian Plum Tomato flavor. While the salted pasta water was coming to a boil, I deveined the kale and cut it chiffonade style, into ribbons. Then a quick blanch, tossed with balsamic vinegar and truffle olive oil, I had a healthy colorful addition to my pasta. 

  
I cooked the linguine al dente and tossed it together with the kale. From my garden, I picked fresh basil, thyme and Italian flat leaf parsley, to mince and fold in at the end.

Buon appetito!

  

Thanks to Laura Brown at Two Writing Teachers for inviting me to participate in the Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge. Since this is a food blog I will try to keep it on topic. 

But I need to start with teeth.

I’ve always been very conscious of teeth. My teeth, my mom’s teeth, other people’s teeth. Disclosing tablets were a thing in my family growing up: little red tablets that dissolve when you chew them and highlight the plaque on your teeth. 

After chewing the iron tasting pill, I would then proceed to brush as much of the disclosing tablet color (think red-pink) and plaque off my teeth, but the final check came from mom. It didn’t matter that I brushed my teeth for the full two minute egg timer, where the sand in the hourglass trickled down as I brushed, mom would always come in for a second look. Which usually involved her brushing more vigorously on my back teeth and reminding me how important it was to get all the plaque off everywhere.

“Oh-aye! I ot ieth!” I would say: because, in my house, toothbrush-in-the-mouth is my mom’s second language. She would hand me back my Big Bird tooth brush because I said, “Okay! I got it!”

As I got older, I made my own lunch; “Okay, I got it!”

Mom has always been a certifiable health nut. Much to my smooth peanut butter loving spouse’s chagrin, I learned to pour all the separated oil off the top of any natural peanut butter jar, (“What happened to the peanut butter? It’s so dry!?”) and then I’d use only a very thin spread of jam on whole wheat bread with hard crunchy wheatberries. I picked the berries out like most kids pull off crusts. I always packed carrots or apples, and swished with water to get the food out of my teeth after eating. This dental hygiene routine was difficult since four spigot water choices at the playground, included terrible choices for dental health. 

The power of kid imagination designated the following flavor choices: coffee, tea, soda pop, or pee. The trouble was the selection could be listed either from left to right, or right to left. So the middle two fountains received all the use. We were “safe” with either soda pop or tea. Our teeth would not have been.

When my little brother, Leif turned two years old, he learned how to turn the doorknob to downstairs. He proceeded to fall to the bottom of the wooden staircase arriving at the downstairs door to mom’s bedroom in a heap. He screamed and his screams echoed up the stairwell, out the half door. We both came running. Mom and I crouched down beside him. He looked a mess and howled even worse. Snot coming out of his nose and blood all over his face. Mom ran him up to the kitchen sink, and inspected his face. She turned to me, “He lost his tooth. Go get his tooth.”

I ran downstairs hearing my brother’s cries and searched the floor for a baby tooth that had fallen out. I couldn’t find anything except a long white thing. That couldn’t be a tooth could it? I brought it upstairs,”I couldn’t find his tooth, but I found this.” 

“That’s it!” she said, grabbed it and shoved it into my brother’s open mouth before he could blink.

Apparently a tooth can reattach if found quickly, unwashed and reinserted. It turns out, the long tapering thing, that was the root. The baby tooth reattached, yet remained a dull grey until it fell out naturally. At least he could bite his food and chew.

“He has gum disease and needs to floss,” mom once said of a guy who wanted to date me. I notice teeth now too, coffee and tea stains, cavities from too much soda pop. My brother became an orthodontist and he sees overbites and underbites, crossbites and veneers. 

I got used to the crunch of wheatberries in bread. I still try to pour off the oil, but my spouse usually gets to the jar of peanut butter first, and stirs it in. I spread jam thin and am grateful to have healthy teeth. For eating. See? I brought it back to food.

German Apple Cake

  Cake ingredients:

3 apples, cored and sliced

1/2 cup Earth Balance non dairy butter

1/4 cup liquid sweetening: like agave, brown rice syrup or honey

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce 

2 Tablespoons non dairy milk

1 cup unbleached flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 

1/4 teaspoon each: ground ginger, cinnamon and coriander 

Topping ingredients:

1/4 cup liquid sweetening: like agave, brown rice syrup or honey

Zest and juice from one small orange

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 cup toasted pecans or slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, grease a 9 inch springform pan

Cook the apple slices briefly in a little water till soft, but not mushy.

Cream together butter and honey, add applesauce and milk. Add flour and baking powder, stir until just combined.

Using a spatula, spread the batter in the pan, arrange the slices around the top of the cake, drizzle with blended topping.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cool 15 minutes before removing from the cake pan.

Serve with cashew cream. 

 

Good cocoa matters, this recipe calls for Dutch cocoa which I first discovered in France. Whisk together:

1/4 cup Droste cocoa powder

8 ounces vegan cream cheese 

1 orange worth of juice and grated orange zest 

1/8-1/4 cup of liquid sweetening, raw agave or honey 

Spread chilled frosting on cooled cake or cupcakes.  

 Top with minced cacao nibs.

Mom and her sister are here, both from warmer climates, muttering about how cold it is here in Northern California. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Fransisco,” Mark Twain said of our weather too, so they are in good company. 

I root around in the pantry for something to satisfy mom’s request for a “hot breakfast cereal is too cold do you have any oatmeal?” She says without stopping as I turn over the Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal package I’ve pulled from beside the flours.

Mom is mostly gluten free, so I say, “Muffins?”

“Oh, good then we can turn on the oven…”

“…and the heater when everyone is upstairs, otherwise we cook them.” Even though heat rises, our house has two climates: upstairs frozen tundra and downstairs scorching desert.

I’m scanning the ingredients and making mental calculations; eggs, yogurt, brown sugar, soy flour, how can I replace those? Mom is off soy too, at the moment. I have a plan. Not gluten free, but warm and very tasty served with nut butter or jam.

I bake as an experiment, using the recipe as “guidelines,” for quantities of liquid, sweetening and binders to replace eggs. Sometimes it works, oftentimes not so much. Today it did.

  I give you Outrageous Apricot Muffins thanks to the thermostat and my oddly stocked pantry. Fortunately, I doubled the recipe so it makes 2 dozen muffins. We finished the first dozen this morning.

Dry ingredients- combine well in a large bowl.

2/3 cup medium grind organic cornmeal 

2/3 cup garbanzo flour (replacing soy flour)

1/2 cup toasted wheatgerm 

1 cup organic whole wheat flour 

1 cup organic white flour 

1 cup ground raw hazelnuts (pulse chop in blender or Cuisinart)

1 cup ground raw pecans

1 cup organic raisins

1 package (about 1 cup) Trader Joe’s frozen semi dried apricots, chopped roughly into 1-3 centimeter pieces 

2 teaspoons of baking soda 

Liquid ingredients- mix together in a quart sized measuring cup or bowl.

1 cup vanilla almond milk (I like Trader Joe’s refrigerated brand)

1 small container of coconut vanilla non dairy yogurt (about 1 cup)

1 cup of honey or agave

2/3 cup of canola oil

Juice and grated zest from one large orange

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 

2 tablespoons chia seeds (to replace the egg, you can also use the same quantity of ground flaxseed)

1/2 cup unsweetened organic applesauce 

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Gently combine wet and dry ingredients, fill paper lined muffin tins with a generous 1/2 cup of batter. Bake in a preheated 350degree F oven for 25 minutes. An inserted toothpick should come out clean.

  

Okay, it is not always easy to eat kale; even though the health benefits abound. The other day I bumped up the nutritional content of my go to enchiladas with kale and butternut squash. It was delicious. I felt a bit like my friend who purées vegetables for her kids soup so they don’t know it contains vegetables. 

Butternut shredded looks like cheddar!  
I don’t have time to heat and soften the tortillas, roll each individual enchilada; so I just layer the tortillas like lasagna.

  
With the kale, butternut, beans, corn, peppers and nopales…

  

  Facing the window over the kitchen sink watching the white peach tree leaves rustle, there were two directions someone with a mastery of the clank and bang of cooking could go: left to the nook with curved built-in bench and table; or right to the formal white table clothed length of seating for many more. As a kid, I bumped elbows with Jill and her little brother, Greg, at the bench as we jostled through our breakfast. Joyce plunking down some hot spectacular egg preparation that wasn’t my standard scrambled or slightly burnt frog-in-the-hole – Joyce’s eggs arrived poached or soft boiled with plenty of salt. Then, before you could blink we’d be on our way out the door to her dad’s car, which smelled of tan newness. 

This bustle of being felt new. Early to school, scrubbed, punctual and polished: these ways didn’t exist in our house: one mom could only do so much. I didn’t miss the snarled hair struggle and tight precise pigtails that escaped from the list of things that were important after my father left. I might have missed a poached egg or unburnt toast. I made my own lunches, fixed my own hair. My own homework remained a mess. Unless, I was staying at Jill’s house, where the whirl of wife/mother, father daughter and brother made me feel like I had just been dropped among the exotic white angelfish they had in a tank in the den/TV room/library; so much swirled around me I hadn’t seen before- a black piano, carpeted stairs (perfect for sliding down in sleeping bags), windows with a view to the ocean, Jill’s room in another wing, red orange betadine instead of hydrogen peroxide (because “my dad is an ER doctor,” Jill explains), and Scope mouthwash we always had ACT (because “my mom is a dental hygienist”). There were other prominent things, a letter that looked like pi carved by the door, a menorah and photographs of people in black and white: years later I would learn were Joyce’s family, the ones that were lost/ died in the Holocaust. 

It is 2016, and I have been invited to my first Passover seder. Funny that it is my first at forty-three, even though at three I picked the one and only Jewish preschool eschewing the three options which brought me to clinging tears. Tuvia pulled me in with art and song, Shalom and hush little baby nap time. And my friend Jill. Whose mom, Joyce, became my mom’s best friend for the next thirty five years. 

Even though I taught in a school district that was predominantly Jewish, have cousins and Jewish relatives, the bar and bat mitzvah celebrations were the only celebrations I really knew/were invited to. Mom always sewed herself a new dress. I always loved the dancing and watched entranced as cousins, friends and second cousins either stumbled or flew through the Hebrew verses on to becoming an adult. Mom threw me a sweet sixteen pool party, to mark my transition to an adult; I don’t feel I have grown up yet. 

I am not sure what it means to be an adult exactly, but Joyce came close to my ideal of one. She earned a PhD, once the kids were out of high school, after she divorced Jill’s dad. She became a LMFT and worked out of a house she bought herself one block from the ocean. She hosted amazing holiday feasts for Thanksgiving and helped my mother see me for me. Then, they took out half her uterus and half of her stomach and looked into clinical trials for her cancer was genetic. She continued to work and I was not, so she hired me. I helped her clear up her client files and organize her recipe folders. This small act of offering me a job, helped remind me of my worth and ability to work/ offer service. I could not change her diagnosis, but I could do this thing, set up a system for organizing her files, pitch countless folders into the dumpster/shredder, try to make some sense of four drawers of recipes. 

I was in the habit of taking a folder or two home, cleaning up the clippings and returning then to the drawer. I took the Passover folder home and before I finished, she died. She and Jill had already put her best/favorite recipes into a cookbook, so there was no need to keep all that stuff, Jill said. I threw everything out, folders and frayed pages torn from newspapers and magazines some shiny with color others tan and smudged with age. I kept the Passover folder, I couldn’t throw it away because on the reverse it showed repurposing from her Opus, Thanksgiving. 

I knew what Thanksgiving meant to Joyce and my mom, we often spent the holiday with Jill’s family, no longer an unfamiliar fish tank but a swirl of love, loudness, acceptance and singing, ma vie en rose, exes and uncles, best friends, delicious food. The thorn was her death, a loss that isn’t covered in the lists of meals made, menus carefully cursed and collected in the folder: passover 2002, 2004,2005, names of people just on the periphery of my knowing like the people in the black and white photographs, and looping handwriting. Who was there and what we ate, seemed to be all the history remaining. 

I read the names turned the brown and brittle stapled clippings over, noting the shift to modern and a new twist on an ancient tradition. I pulled two recipes for Passover, one matzoh crackers covered with chocolate, dried fruit and nuts, another for chocolate dipped strawberries, I have been asked to bring asparagus, I will make a vegan hollandaise with a dash of horseradish. I contemplate the spices and prunes that flavor a roast, and wonder how I might veganize it. Modern? Contemporary? Passover with a new twist on ancient tradition?

I will find a yellow tablet, list the names and what we ate hearing the echoes of Joyce’s voice in the kitchen between two tables, rooms left saltless without her presence.

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