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carrot zucchini cake with walnuts

Sitting here by the pool with the afternoon sun on my legs and a cascade of trumpet flowers draping off the pergola above my head, I have but one recurring thought: life is good on Love Apple Farms. Alright, I may not have been thinking that yesterday when I lugged an enormous bucket of biodynamic worm tea back and forth for several hours to hand fertilize 15 beds of produce. But as hard as the eight-hour workdays can be, there are a disproportionately large number of beautiful moments here on the farm compared to anywhere else I’ve lived.

I suppose my “beautiful moments” philosophy needs a bit of an explanation. At the risk of sounding like a complete hippie (a charge easy to make considering I now wear tie-dyed Love Apple shirts every other day), I have a thing for beautiful moments that started around the time that I began keeping journals. It began as a New Year’s resolution—think of a memorable moment from the day before falling asleep, and at the end of every month record the 10 best moments in a list. Unfortunately I’ve long since abandoned the practice of listing them, but I still think of moments before bed sometimes and wonder if there’s any way I could ever truly capture them in writing.

And here, every day an ordinary moment will strike me as strange or lovely or funny. Like sitting by the redwood trees at dusk, passing around the airsoft rifle and shooting soda cans off a pile of bricks. Stealing the single strawberry from the garden pots, warm and a little tart because I couldn’t wait for it to ripen. Smelling the aroma of simmering malted barley in a beer making class, or eating a crispy fried farm egg on toast with avocado. Lying on the roof of the garden classroom on a Monday night and watching the stars.

For me it’s always been the small things, small moments that add up to something like contentment. Which is why when, the other night, I found myself suddenly craving carrot cake at 5:30 in the afternoon, I just went into the kitchen and made it. No one else was around. I probably should have been making dinner, something savory and practical. But I felt like carrot cake—more than that, I felt like making carrot cake alone in the afternoon, humming to myself in my own little beautiful moment.

Carrot Zucchini Cake with Walnuts

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp baking soda

cinnamon

nutmeg

cloves

salt

4 eggs

1 cup oil

2 cups grated carrot

1 cup grated zucchini

1 cup walnut halves

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add in the spices to taste (I like a few good shakes of each) and finish with a pinch of salt. Add the eggs and combine, then pour in the oil and mix well. Lastly put in the grated carrot, zucchini, and walnuts and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

potato salad with blue cheese and lemon

I’ve loved magazines for as long as I can remember. Lately I’ve come to think of it more as a mild obsession—I’ve read them pressed against a stranger’s neck on the subway, crumpled in my tent at 11,000 ft., balanced precariously on the rim of the bathtub, and flat across my knees in crowded lecture halls. My choice of titles has been equally varied: when I went through every little girl’s requisite horse phase I acquired a series of pen pals through Young Rider, in middle school I made collages from my copies of National Geographic, and my dorm room in New York was filled with old stacks of Wired, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, The New Yorker, and Women’s Fitness.

My favorite magazines, though, were always the food ones. In high school I would get up half an hour early to sit at the kitchen table reading Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine, perusing the feature spreads and dog-earing any recipes that looked promising. Ruth Reichl was my idol, and it was a secret dream of mine to work for Gourmet at the Conde Nast building in New York. In retrospect that dream was probably a large part of why I went to college in New York to begin with, and the fact that Gourmet folded my junior year is probably a large part of why I’m not still there.

The very first time I read a food magazine was a memorable occasion, if not for the circumstances then at least for the recipe I discovered. I was 11, on a trip with my family to spend the Fourth of July in Wisconsin, and my mother and I were wandering through an airport gift shop when the August issue of Bon Appetit caught our eye. The cover was commanded by close-up photo of blue cheese potato salad. I’d never had potato salad and I’d never read Bon Appetit, but it’s safe to say that two long and illustrious relationships began that day—one with the magazine and one with the potato salad I’ve since made countless times, twice in the past week. Today it’s safely bookmarked online in my epicurious.com recipe box, but when I’m home I still like to pull out our kitchen scrapbook, where pasted on a turquoise background is the same now faded page I read 11 years ago.

Potato Salad with Lemon and Blue Cheese

This version is adapted from the Bon Appetit recipe that can be found on epicurious.com, and as I discovered last week the quantities are easy to double (or triple, should you love cold potato salad as much as I do).

3 lbs small potatoes, quartered

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup red onions, chopped

2 Tbsp parsley

1/4 cup chives, chopped

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp lemon zest (plus juice from zested lemon)

3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

In a large pot, boil potatoes until tender but not quite falling apart. Whisk together the remaining ingredients (except for the blue cheese) to make a dressing that should look nice and thick, and pour over drained potatoes while they are still warm. Add crumbled blue cheese and toss gently (a little mashing of the potatoes is fine). Cover and refrigerate and serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

the best pizza ever

It was 8pm on Thursday night, and Ross and I were hunched over the granite countertop in the classroom kitchen, surrounded by dough and toppings. “You’ve got to make love to it,” he said with husky reverence, rolling the dough so that it stretched into a thin layer that we lifted onto a metal sheet pan. Having been cooking for close to 12 hours I felt qualified to get intimate with a pizza—after our morning meeting Ross, Phillip and I had headed straight to the kitchen to marinade chicken, boil potatoes, and process three batches of dough in the KitchenAid. It was a cooking marathon comparable to Christmas, and for an equally worthy occasion—Zach’s 21st birthday party.

I’d never really had success with pizza. When the urge for a homemade pie struck I usually resorted to Trader Joe’s prepackaged dough, but unfortunately that route generally results in a lumpy crust and a soft, undercooked center. When we decided to do pizza for Zach’s party—Love Apple has a beautiful pizza oven in the center of their outdoor patio—I was tempted to go for premade dough again, but Costco had none to offer. So I put on a confident face for Cynthia and Zach, assured people I’d made pizza on several occasions, and grabbed my laptop to google “pizza dough.”

Fortunately the first thing that came up was a recipe from Heidi Swanson, creator of one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. I made the dough at 8am Thursday morning with fingers crossed, but I knew it had a lot to live up to—Ross’ toppings included his famous caramelized onions and mushrooms, and Phillip’s barbequed chicken and ribs are pretty incredible. Then there was the bounty from the garden to contend with—carrots that became shaved carrot salad with thyme, chard that paired with quinoa, apricots, and pine nuts, and eight kinds of greens that filled three salad bowls. To top it off we even made potato salad with blue cheese and egg salad with eggs from the chickens. (If you can imagine the fridge at this point you’ll understand why the Christmas comparison begged to be made).

By 8pm the pizza oven—fired up at noon—was finally ready, and Ross and I carried out a pizza topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and gorgonzola. I’d selected a small egg from the flat in the kitchen, and right before sliding our creation into the oven Ross cracked it gently over the top. After three minutes in the oven and a few of Ross’ skillful maneuvers with the pizza peel, our pizza emerged—looking like real pizza. It was perfect.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddily proud of something I’ve helped to make, but mostly it was just a wonderful moment—the pizza, the food, the people, my first month on the farm. Six pizzas later I still felt just as good.

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, Gorgonzola and Egg

I followed the recipe from 101 Cookbooks as closely as I could, with the main exception being that I made the dough early in the morning instead of the night before.

1 ball of pizza dough

butter

several medium onions, sliced

1 cup small brown mushrooms, sliced

1 medium wedge gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

egg

salt

fresh basil

In a large saucepan, melt a knob of butter and add the sliced onions. Caramelize over medium heat, stirring so the onions don’t stick and watching for them to turn a shade of dark golden brown. Saute the mushrooms separately, then mix in with the onions and set aside in a bowl. On a well-floured surface, roll your dough gently with a small rolling pin until it reaches about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a floured pan, or a pizza stone (or flipped-over cast iron pan) if you make your pizza at the highest temperature setting in a traditional oven. Smooth a scoop of the caramelized onions and mushrooms on the dough, then crumble gorgonzola on top. Right before cooking your pizza crack a small egg over the center, then slide into the oven and watch carefully for doneness (the crust should brown and crisp, the cheese should bubble, and the center should not be soft). Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt and torn pieces of fresh basil.

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