Zucchini Bread with Coconut Crust

The sad thing about zucchini bread is that it doesn’t actually use up that much zucchini.  Every summer, it’s touted as the answer to everyone’s zucchini problems, as if all we need to do to rid the world of the shiny green invasion is to each make a loaf or two of zucchini bread.  But most recipes, including mine here, only use about a cup of grated zucchini per loaf–which in whole-zucchini terms, isn’t even one regularly-sized squash.

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A young British woman once told me that in England, when the zucchini (which they call courgettes to begin with) get too large and watery, they’re called marrow, and everyone makes marrow jam.  This is, in fact, a terrific way to get rid of lots of zucchini, but the jam is typically British, and by that I mean tooth-achingly sweet and thick with chunks of ginger and caramelized squash.  I made a batch last year and will probably be wiping out the last jar in 2020 or so.  I find it hard to imagine that even in the empire of treacle people are able to go through a batch of marrow jam every year, but I suppose one has to eat something with your afternoon tea.

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Nevertheless, before the end of every summer I do feel a driving need to make zucchini bread.  And even if it doesn’t use up very much zucchini, no one around here is complaining.

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You can substitute whole wheat flour for up to 1 C of the white flour.  Like most sweet breads, this freezes well.

Zucchini Bread with Coconut Crust
Makes 2 loaves

3 eggs
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
1/2 C apple or pear sauce
2 C sugar
2 C grated zucchini
1/2 C chopped walnuts
2 t vanilla
3 C flour
3 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1 t salt

Coconut Crust:
1/2 C shredded coconut
3 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
2 T coconut oil, melted

Preheat oven to 325° and grease 2 loaf pans.  In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy.  Mix in the oil, applesauce, and sugar.  Stir in the grated zucchini, walnuts, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix into the large bowl.  Distribute evenly into the prepared pans.

To make the crust, mix the shredded coconut, sugar, and cinnamon.  Work in the coconut oil with a fork or with your fingers.  Crumble the topping evenly over both loaves.

Bake 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Rotate the pans halfway through for even baking.


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Spiced Apricots with Cardamom and Rosewater

People generally think of farmers markets as benign places: frolicking children, adults enjoying the fresh air, smiling sunflowers.  But twice in the last couple years, my local farmers market has been a place where the worst side of our nature has come out, the innocence of that bucolic beauty marred by ugly violence.  Of course I’m referring to the trash-talking that precedes the biannual pie contest.

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I will admit to all the world that I am one of the ugly offenders.  I have a very specific sort of competitive streak; I’ve never been very good at sports, and I’m certainly not the strongest, fastest, smartest, or even funniest.  But I know what I am capable of, and in certain situations I will push myself relentlessly to achieve it.  So when I first found out about the summer fruit pie contest back in 2011, I immediately set my mind to winning.

My pie had to be memorable.  To stand out from the crowd, a pie needs one of two things, if not both: an outstanding crust, or a creative filling.  In this case the filling had to highlight summer fruit at its peak of perfection, but it needed a twist that would make the judges perk up in their seat a little.  My first attempt was indeed memorable, but not in a good way.  Wanting to play with the pie’s visual aspects and texture, I hit on the unfortunate combination of blueberries and tapioca, in a pie that elicited negative comparisons to fish eggs.  One look and I knew it was back to the drawing board.

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I mused over other, more radical ideas: what truly constitutes a pie?  What are the minimum characteristics needed to qualify for the contest?  What about a deconstructed pie–an inverted pie–a mathematical pie (oh the fodder for puns)?  Finally I asked myself: is it better to be clever or to be a good baker?  Did I want to make the judges laugh, raise an eyebrow, or reach for another slice?  And thus this simple apricot filling was born.

Apricots are a natural partner for cardamom, rosewater, orange blossom water, or anything with floral notes.  When cooked, their tartness and bright flavor concentrates into the essence of summer.  I poured these apricots over a pre-baked tart shell made with whole wheat pastry flour and flaked coconut, topped it with pistachios, and knew I had a winner on my hands.

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That’s when I became more or less insufferable whenever someone mentioned the pie contest.  I wouldn’t reveal my secrets–wouldn’t even divulge the fruit I was using–but I let everyone know they would have to step up their game.  Lest you think of me as a bully, I sure got as good as I gave (you know who you are).  And when the dust settled I think we all knew we had acted in ways that were unbefitting a farmers market–but also entirely necessary in such a serious situation.

Lately I’ve found that the recipe works equally as well on its own as it does in a tart shell.  We’ve eaten them with vanilla ice cream, ricotta, pound cake–you name it.  It’s also suitable for water-bath canning, so it’s a simple way to preserve a large amount of apricots with something more interesting than sugar syrup.  This past weekend I canned 10 pints of these lightly-spiced fragrant apricots, and I know that when we open them in the depths of winter, they will taste exactly like summer–and a little like victory as well.

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Spiced Apricots with Cardamom and Rosewater
For one 8″ tart:

1 lb. apricots, halved and pitted
1/2 C + 6 T water
6 T honey
1 cardamom pod
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 t rosewater

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook until apricots are soft and just falling apart.  Remove apricots with a slotted spoon and reduce syrup until it coats the back of a spoon.  Remove spices, return apricots to the syrup, and simmer one more minute.  Pour into prepared tart crust and top with 1/4 C chopped pistachios.

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Persephone Farm

I wandered down the seemingly endless row of blackberries, never stopping long enough to throw more than a couple plump berries into my box or my mouth.  It always seemed if I walked just a little farther, the berries were just a little bigger, juicier, shinier in the sun.

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Down the row from me, A and M didn’t seem to be having these problems.  At one point I couldn’t see them around a bend of bushes, and for a brief moment I stopped picking and listened.  Behind me were fields warming in the sun, some fallow, some cover-cropped, and some with that half-orderly profusion of vegetables and companion plants that comes with organic growing.  On the other side of the fields, the river rushed through with a quiet roar of snowmelt, and every now and then the shrieks of children’s laughter echoed.  It was Sunday; no one was working these fields.  The farmers and plants were resting, but we were still surrounded by the busy-ness of life.

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Persephone Farm is tucked away between a hillside and a river outside Lebanon, Ore.  Here, you won’t see endless rows of single crops, or paths clear of weeds, or large soil-compacting machinery.  Here, you will find lettuce nestled up next to fennel standing tall beside corn—and at the end of each row and sprinkled throughout the fields, you will see bursts of red, orange, and white flowers, little havens teeming with ladybugs and other beneficial insects that will spend their lives feasting on aphids.

Here, chickens scratch in the grass, bathe in the dirt, and occasionally hop their fences to see what’s on the other side.  A one-eyed cat roams through tall grass and sweet pea hedges, curious enough to greet newcomers but busy with his own routine of guarding the farm.

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The only greenhouse you will see here is a warm, wet nursery for baby plants.  Once sturdy enough to be pushed out of the nest, all of these plants will spend their lives under the wind, rain, and sun.  They will grow on their own time, not hastened by hoop houses or plastic row covers.  They will ripen in the season they like best—not before, not after.  Because of this, unlike at most farms, the tomatoes will not be red until September, the onions will grow small and grouchy in the rain, and you will find no eggplants, habaneros, or sweet potatoes—they don’t like growing in Oregon.

If you come to one of Persephone Farm’s market booths, you may be surprised at some of the prices.  But if you ask, you will hear a story about hand-planted vegetable starts, hand-harvested onions and potatoes, hand-plucked eggs daily from the nest.  If you look again, you will see that the produce is washed and sorted with care, that the bundles of kale are all equally bursting, that someone went to great pains to ensure that the finest produce made it to you in the best possible condition.  Nothing at Persephone Farm is done carelessly.


In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest.  She is also, though not of her own accord, queen of the underworld, where she is forced to spend four months of every year.  But every spring, Persephone joyfully bursts back into the land of the living, and plants begin to grow again.   I work for Persephone Farm at one of their farmers markets, and every Saturday morning, as we unload the truck and start opening bins of produce, it feels like Persephone has just returned to the earth.


When we were done picking blackberries, A, M, and I strolled back down the dusty lane with purple, thorn-pricked hands, and rejoined the party.  By the end of the evening about 30 people had come from up and down the Willamette Valley, miles along the highway and then east on these hot, dry roads.  Everyone brought food; some people brought poetry; and we feasted, laughed, and shared in the waning summer sun with the buzz of insects all around us.

“Friends and family of Persephone Farm,” we call ourselves; and we love Persephone Farm for all the reasons above, because they care for the earth, and they care what sort of food their customers eat and what sort of lives their chickens live.  But I think many of us also love it because, like the goddess, when Persephone Farm is in our lives, we want to grow.

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Preserved Lemons

When an aunt and uncle from Northern California hand you a cooler full of Meyer lemons, make lemon marmalade.  And lemon curd.  And when you just can’t fit one more sweet lemony thing into your day, make preserved lemons with the rest.

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Preserved lemons are one of my absolute favorite condiments.  Whole lemons are pickled in a mixture of salt and lemon juice, and after a few weeks the rinds soften and they’re ready to eat.  Perhaps most well-known in North African cooking, several Indian cuisines also make lemon pickles, with hot chilies and spices.  I’ve made both styles, and while I do like to have a good spicy lemon pickle in the fridge, Moroccan-style plain preserved lemons are the ones I find myself making a few times a year to ensure that I always have them on hand.

They may also be one of the friendliest ways to introduce yourself to fermenting foods.  Since most of the action here occurs in the safe, cool confines of the fridge, you don’t have to worry about the scums, smells, and other unsavoriness* that attends many  fermentations.  I’m not a fermentation fanatic, but I do believe it’s spiritually invigorating to cast off the strictures of white lab coats and sterile rooms, and to invite the little wild yeasties and bacteria in the air into your life.  So perhaps the salty, acidic, antimicrobial atmosphere of preserved lemons is the gentle introduction that some of you need into this world.

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Typically one only uses the rind of preserved lemons, so rather than adding tartness to a dish, they come to play a role similar to olives: salty, and with that unique tang that comes with salt-curing.  An integral ingredient to many Moroccan dishes, I’ve also found them delicious in pasta salads, chopped vegetable salads, or just with rice and hot sauce.

Another key benefit is that commercial preserved lemons run upwards of $10 a jar, and if you make your own your only cost is the lemons and a few minutes of your time–and if you know someone with a lemon tree, the cost becomes very attractive indeed.

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Preserved Lemons
Lemons, organic or no-spray
Sea salt
Extra lemon juice

Scrub the lemons and cut slits almost all the way to the center, so that the lemon is in quarters but still attached.  Generously sprinkle salt into each slit and press the lemons into a clean jar.  Push down and squeeze as many lemons as possible in each jar.  I can usually fit 3-4 lemons per pint jar.  Seal with a clean lid, preferably plastic or coated metal (Mason canning lids will rust in the brine).  Let stand at room temperature for 3-4 days.  During this time the lemons will release most of their juice.  Top the jar off with fresh lemon juice to cover the lemons, and then transfer to the fridge.  They will be ready to use in 1 month.

*If you’re new to fermentation, please note that this unsavoriness is often quite natural.  In particular, when exposed to air, fermented foods do often mold, but the food still under the brine is still safe and untouched.  Some people are just more comfortable than others about skimming mold off of something they’re about to eat.

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Blueberry Rose Jam

July was a crazy month.  We traveled out of state and up mountains; saw the ocean and stood upon a 5000-foot peak; cycled the ríos of Los Angeles; watched friends wed by the sea.  For me it was also a month of meetings, whipping ideas around in the long hours of Portland’s summer sunshine, when things get done far more quickly than in the gloom of our rainy season.  And at the end of the month, four whole days off the grid, away from cell phones, Internet, and the world news.


The farmers market is overflowing with summer produce: cascades of green, yellow, and purple beans beside piles of bright and shiny summer squash, tufts of basil beckoning with their aromatic greeting, the dizzying scent of peaches warming in the sun.  And yet amidst all the chaos, I have found myself unable to truly take pleasure in the bounty of Oregon’s summer.  Dinners in July were, I am ashamed to say, all too often an interruption, a chore that needed to be finished before I could move on to the next item on my to-do list.

August and September will be—must be—different.  The late summer harvest in Oregon is awe-inspiring—and since A and I do our best to eat seasonally and locally, we have a lot to do before the autumn rains come.  Freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, canning.  Pounds upon pounds of produce need to be processed in our kitchen in the next two months so that our winter fare consists of more than root vegetables and winter squash.

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Today, then, is both a resurrection and a kick-off.  After too much time away, I needed to reacquaint myself with my kitchen; needed to spend some time alone with my pots; needed to make something impractical and luxurious that would sustain us in the depths of the cold season, maybe not nutritionally but certainly emotionally.  And I needed to get used to the idea of spending Sunday mornings sweating over a cutting board or stove top, as we stock up for the lean days ahead.

This jam is the quintessence of those things.  I try not to make jam very often because I enjoy the process far more than I enjoy sugary spreads on my toast, and if I let myself go I end up with more jam and jelly than I can even give away.  But the blueberries in Oregon have been fat, sweet, and plentiful this year, so what better way to get in the mindset of putting food by than to start with something both practical and frivolous at the same time?

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I’ve fallen in love with the combination of rosewater and fruit.  When you open the bottle the scent is heady and almost overpowering, but just a touch adds a floral note that subtly deepens tart fruits like apricots and berries.  Blueberry jam just might be my favorite; I find its deep bluish-purple color more refined than the gaudy gem-like reds and pinks of other berries.  At the height of the season blueberries still tend to be a mixture of sweet and tart, but even with this balance I add lemon juice to help cut the sweetness.

I taught myself how to make jam six years ago, and the process has become meditative, almost second nature.  I don’t often create new recipes when I’m preserving; since you have to do it in quantity, it’s quite dangerous to not be certain you’ll like the outcome.  But today I felt confident.  I knew how the jam would taste before it had even come to a boil.  And I knew that there are few things quite as satisfying and invigorating as a line of jeweled Mason jars just out of the canner, testament to a good day’s work and a good omen for the future.

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You can find rosewater at many good grocery stores nowadays; or at Middle Eastern groceries.

I added a whole lemon, juiced, to the jam while it cooked to add a little natural pectin.  You can omit this step; the jam will still gel once the sugar reaches temperature.

Blueberry Rose Jam
3 lbs. blueberries (about 3 pints)
1 T rosewater
1 T lemon juice
1 lemon, tied in cheesecloth (optional)
4 C sugar

Wash and sort the berries and place in a large saucepan with the rosewater and lemon juice.  Place a small saucer in the freezer.  Place the berries over medium-low heat and mash with a potato masher.  Once mostly crushed, add the wrapped lemon and increase the heat to medium-high.  Bring to a boil and add the sugar.  Stir to melt and bring to a boil as quickly as possible.  Boil hard, stirring frequently, and then stirring constantly as the mixture cooks down.

When the liquid looks syrupy, remove from the heat and take the saucer from the freezer.  Spoon a little liquid onto the cold saucer and wait about 20 seconds.  When the jam has reached the gelling point, it will form a slight skin on the surface and when you draw a line in the liquid with your finger, the jam will not seep back to fill in the line you’ve made.  If the jam has not gelled, return to a boil and conduct the freezer test again every 5 minutes, removing the pot from the heat while you do.

Once the jam has gelled, ladle into clean, hot jars and either store in the refrigerator or process in a boiling-water bath canner (5 minutes for half-pints, 10 minutes for pints).  For more detailed instructions on canning jams and jellies, see the USDA’s Guide to Home Canning.

Yields about 7 half-pints.

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Snap Pea Risotto with Monksbeard

I think to be a completely happy food lover you sometimes need to let your whims take over.

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Last week I mentioned being stopped in my tracks at the farmers market by exotic Italian greens, and I wasn’t kidding.  I was recently strolling by Mudjoy Farm‘s booth on a somewhat drizzly day and spied dark-green fronds I had never seen before.  Forgetting the rain on my bare head, I stopped to ask the farmer what he could tell me about this agretti.  After a quick chat, he let me know that this was the tail-end of the season, and I thanked him and went on my way.

Just days later I was leisurely flipping through POLPO, a newly-acquired cookbook covering the Venetian fare of the London restaurant of the same name.  A recipe caught my eye: Prawn Risotto with Monksbeard.  Idly wondering what monksbeard was, I skimmed through the introductory notes and suddenly sat up straighter: “…also known as barba di frate or agretti.”  I needed no clearer sign that I was meant to experience this new food immediately.  I enlisted A to return to Mudjoy Farm’s booth the following week while I was otherwise occupied, and began to wonder how to cook agretti.

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In English agretti is also known as saltwort (Salsola soda), a name indicating its preference for coastal environs and salt water irrigation.  Like other haplophytes, or salt-tolerant plants, agretti accumulates sodium in its plant tissues, making it an interesting crop choice for high-saline soils or areas that need to be desalinated for other crops. Because of its high proportion of sodium carbonate, like other saltworts agretti was historically used as a source of soda ash, an alkali substance that aids in clarifying soap and glass.  The famed beauty of Venetian and Murano glass is thanks to this unassuming succulent, so no wonder that the leaves also feature in traditional Venetian cooking.

When eaten raw, agretti has a pleasant juicy crunch, and a sharp mineral flavor that some have compared to spinach.  As the POLPO recipe suggests, I imagine it would do nicely with any of the milder seafood flavors, from crustaceans to whitefish, but I think the oilier fish varieties would overpower agretti‘s subtlety.  I wanted to find a way to bring out its mineral notes without compromising my food budget, so instead of splurging on fresh prawns I turned to the frozen stock we had leftover from our squid ink escapades this past spring.  A bag of snap peas that I had picked up at the farmers market as an afterthought turned out to be the perfect mild, crunchy complement to the garlicky, briney stock and the agretti.

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I only used about half of our fernlike frond of agretti for this recipe, and as I mused aloud about what to do with the remainder A told me that the farmer had suggested tossing it raw with thinly sliced radishes in a sesame oil dressing, which immediately became part of tomorrow’s lunch plans.

POLPO suggests that you can substitute marsh samphire for monksbeard.  If you live in the other 90% of the world where farmers and foragers do not have monksbeard and samphire regularly on offer, I would suggest finishing this risotto with a good handful of fresh tarragon or chives.  You can also use chicken or vegetable stock instead of fish stock, but you will end up with a different dish–equally delicious, I am sure, but different.

Snap Pea Risotto with Monksbeard
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
A good pinch of chili flakes
1 T tomato paste
5 oz. dry white wine
1 quart fish or shrimp stock

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
5 oz. dry vermouth
2 C Arborio rice
8 oz. snap peas, strings removed and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 C monksbeard leaves

In a medium saucepan, saute the roughly-chopped onion and garlic in olive oil about 5 minutes over medium.  Add the chili flakes, tomato paste, and white wine.  When the wine has evaporated, add the broth.  Bring to a boil reduce heat, and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then keep on low heat as you prepare the risotto.

Saute the finely-chopped onion in butter and olive oil until translucent, about 15 minutes.  Add the rice and stir a minute or two to coat the grains.  Add the vermouth and let evaporate.  Add warm stock to cover and let the rice absorb, simmering.

Stir occasionally to keep the risotto from sticking and taste the broth occasionally, adding salt if necessary.  When the stock has been fully absorbed, add more stock to cover.  At the end of the second reduction, test the rice.  The center of the grain should be tender.  Add more liquid as necessary.

When the rice is a couple minutes away from being done, stir in the snap peas and the monksbeard.  Cook 2-3 minutes, until the peas are bright green.  Turn the heat off and let the risotto rest, covered, for a few minutes.

Serves 4-6.

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