So, not only is today the first day of summer–an occasion worth celebrating–but we’re also now several posts into this blog and the good old guilt has already started to set in; go figure, huh? That didn’t take long at all! But I warned you about this at the beginning; any soul that would choose to devote her life to Russian literature in any shape or form clearly isn’t operating according to standards of normalcy (nope, most things connected with Russian have a touch of the messianic about them and it just so happens that it extends itself to the scholars who toil away trying to make sense of the madness). The main reason for the guilt is that, after the news about the article and the resulting scones, I sent my adviser an email; within in a day, I got back a very sweet and supportive response, telling me that this kind of rejection was normal and that I should use my current momentum for the dissertation……Right, that dissertation that I’ve been thinking about every day, yet doing little to bring to fruition. Seriously. If we were to tally the things that have been accomplished in the month of June, it would read: Books read for work purposes: 0; Cakes baked: 5; Prospectus pages written: 0; Blog posts: 4. I’m trained to see patterns and thus the one before my eyes is slightly troubling since numerical data alone shows us that my current momentum is spent almost exclusively on measuring cups of sugar. 🙂 Besides my belief that hope springs eternal and, more importantly, just as Scarlett bravely says at the end of Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another [work] day,” I know that all is not lost. After all, being aware of a pattern already means that you’re halfway there to fixing it! And speaking of patterns, as I also started to notice another somewhat alarming one (that this blog has thus far solely been about dessert!), I decided something savory and healthy needed to be both shared and prepared–largely for your sake, but also for mine. That’s not to say, however, that dessert can’t also be healthy and “green.” It’s really a question of perception. 🙂
My big cooking adventure of the week was yesterday–Father’s Day. And what inspired my Father’s Day menu (in my opinion, food always makes an excellent gift; it’s ultimately so much more thoughtful than going to the store and picking up any old thing!) was the abundance of fresh vegetables I found myself in possession of: mainly green beans and zucchini. That’s the beautiful thing about southwestern PA in the summer; sometimes you’re just driving along and you come across an area off the highway where a farmer has set up a stand with the most delicious and fresh offerings (and they’re equally easy on the wallet, which in these times is nothing to scoff at). The zucchini came from just such a place and as soon as I saw it I knew what fate would befall it; it was destined to turn into one of my mother’s favorite cakes: the Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake that had plagued my youth (I could never get over the fact that a vegetable was being used in a dessert; I’m happy to report that, in recent years, my palate has taken a turn for the better and I can now appreciate all that zucchini can do for a cake…especially when it’s combined with chocolate). I’m getting ahead of myself, however. Dessert comes after the salad…. In some cases, I’m a stickler for order….unless I’ve had a bad day and some form of cake or dessert just magically morphs into dinner; happens to the best of us.
To complement my secret theme of “green reigns supreme”, I also decided to make the salad that, a few months ago when I hosted a pre-exam dinner party at my apartment, somehow stole the show. Trust me, I never saw it coming; I’m quite fond of this salad, but I didn’t realize how green beans, chickpeas and random spices topped with parmesan and a Dijon mustard vinaigrette could top Vegetarian lasagna, Lemony Lentils and a Blueberry Tart. And maybe, ultimately, they didn’t (no reason for me to feel competitive or hierarchical on behalf of the food; there are limits to my own irrational behavior), but the point is that I never saw so many people happily crunching on green beans. It’s clearly a mother’s dream, although something tells me that young children, unlike adults, wouldn’t be swayed by the mustard dressing and herbs (especially Tarragon with its anise-like aroma). Then again, as I read an article not too long ago on American children and the rise of bento box lunches, I’m not going to make any assumptions about the younger generation, whose palate might all-around be even more advanced than mine.
Green Bean and Herb Salad
(Adapted from “Recipes for Health” in the NYTimes)
Yields 4 servings
1/2 pound green beans
3 ounces mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced thin (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (NB: I’m crazy about chickpeas, so I tend to add more; clearly, you can mix and match as you see fit)
2 ounces shaved Parmesan (about 1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, like chives, oregano, Italian parsley and tarragon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (I like my dressing a little more vinegar-y, rather than oily)
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
-Steam or blanch the green beans for four to five minutes, and then cool in a bowl of ice water. Drain and trim the stems. Cut the longer beans in half.
-Combine the beans, mushrooms, chickpeas, Parmesan and herbs in a salad bowl and toss to mix.
-In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the olive oil.
-Mix the dressing into the salad before serving.
Chocolate and Zucchini Bundt Cake
Yields 8 generous slices
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (I prefer the latter)
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. baking soda + 1/2 tsp. at the end
2 tsps. cinnamon
3 heaping Tbsps. cocoa
2 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
3-4 ounces of finely chopped dark chocolate
-Preheat oven to 350.
-Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.
-Cream oil, sugar and eggs in a mixer (preferably a standing one, though a hand-held one will also do the trick)
-In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cocoa.
– Add dry ingreidents to the sugar mixture, mixing well and making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl at least twice.
-Add grated zucchini and vanilla and mix.
-With a spatula or spoon, gently stir in the chopped dark chocolate and the final 1/2 tsp. of baking soda.
-Pour into greased pan and bake for 60 minutes.
-After removing from the oven, let cake cool for 10 minutes and then carefully flip it onto a waiting dish.