dried cherries

the slow pace of neighbors

A knock came on the door. Lu and Danny and I were in the kitchen, whisking flours and making pickling liquid for the pile of vegetables left over at the end of the week. Danny wiped his hands on the kitchen towel he always has slung over his shoulder and moved toward the living room.

“Hey, thanks!” I heard him shout out, then some mumbled conversation and laughter.
“Wow, the UPS guy is in a good mood today,” I thought, as I gave Lu a pat on the back as I passed behind her.
Danny came back in, bearing two big bags. Heavy, obviously, from the way he strained to lift them. He set them down on the table and we all peered in.
Apples. Hundreds and hundreds of apples.

Our neighbors to the east of us have dozens of apple trees in their large yard. We watched them go from blossom to bud to tiny green fruits from the first days we moved into this house. Lu has been fascinated. Many times, she wanted to climb over the fence and pick apples, especially after we started reading The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree together. “Honey,” I have told her repeatedly. “Those aren’t our trees. We’re just lucky enough to see them.”

And then our neighbor showed up at our door, leaving bags of apples from his trees before walking back home again.

We feel so lucky to live where we do. Our neighbors to the west of us have become friends, their little ones just younger than Lu. We trade off feeding each other some weeks. When they go away for the weekend or holidays, we take care of their flock of chickens and the two goats who like to sit on the upturned picnic table and slowly turn their heads as we walk by. Lu loves entering the barn, coaxing the chickens inside, away from the dark, and filling up their water buckets. The goats butt their heads against our legs, eager for food. Within a few moments, we’ve collected warm eggs for the next day’s breakfast. Lu carries them back to our house in her hands, walking slowly to protect them.

Our neighbor across the way has a giant pasture and three gorgeous brown horses. Lu’s now engineered to go through a horse phase, especially when Marcia believes it’s time to let Lu climb onto one of those horses. We stop at the end of our driveway, when it’s not raining, and feed carrots to the horse who stretches his neck over the fence toward our outstretched hands. Marcia has worked on the ferry boats for over 30 years, one of the few women to work in the system in the 1970s. When we had her over for dinner recently, she told us in her soft-spoken voice that she was the only woman on the WSU diving team in the early 1960s. Lu’s eyes went wide when she heard that Marcia jumped off the high board and arced her body under the water. This was better than the horses.

And now we have a neighbor who leaves apples off his trees on our front porch.

There’s so much about a small town that’s funky, times it can feel claustrophobic. But I love living in a place where people can’t help but know each other. A place where you’re connected with each other, not because of shared passions or deep feelings of kinship, but because of proximity. In the last seven years or so, I’ve made many great friends on the internet, people with whom I can type fast in conversation because we feel so much alike. But I’ve also been left feeling spent by friendships that seemed authentic but burned out fast. Not being able to stand next to each other, listening to each other’s ideas over the fence, gave some friendships a distorted sense of connection. These days, I like the slow pace of neighbors, simple kindness, a few words together.

We feel like we’ll live here on Vashon for many years to come, perhaps all our lives. It feels good to know people, to share food, to stop and talk for a few moments about the weather.

We grabbed apples out of the bags. Lu took a bite and looked surprised at the tartness, the crisp skin. Danny started juggling a few of them, just to make her laugh. I started talking about pies and crisps, chunky applesauce and smooth apple butter we would simmer for hours. Lu liked the sound of that.

After a few moments, Danny started pulling foods out of the cupboards — dried cherries, some fresh ginger — and did what happens ten times a day in our kitchen. He started chopping onions. He began peeling apples.

Apple-cherry chutney with a touch of ginger. That might be a good thank you for the gift of apples left on our front porch.

APPLE-CHERRY CHUTNEY

We love this apple-cherry chutney on top of crisp polenta wedges. (And if you want a recipe for those, go here.) But it’s a great accompaniment to roast chicken or pork chops. I’d love some sweet potato fries or celery root fries with this. And plop some onto a roasted root vegetable hash, with some sour cream or thick yogurt? That’s a good breakfast.

1/2 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup brown sugar
5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 large nub ginger, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon orange zest

Toasting the spices. Heat the oven to 450°. Put the cinnamon stick and allspice in a small skillet. Put it in the oven and toast the spices, shaking the skillet a bit occasionally, for 10 minutes. Put the toasted spices in a spice grinder and grind them into a fine powder.

Making the chutney. Set a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in the apple cider vinegar, apple cider, and brown sugar. Bring them to a boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar is entirely dissolved into the liquids.

Add the apples, onion, ginger, and celery into the saucepan. Add the toasted spices and mustard seeds and stir. Cook, stirring, until the apples begin to break down, about 25 minutes. (You still want some of the chunkiness of the apple but you want a bit of creaminess too.)

Put the orange zest and dried cherries into the chutney and stir. Immediately turn off the heat. Let the chutney sit on the back of the stove until it has cooled to room temperature. It should last in the refrigerator for a week.

Makes about 4 cups.

Make ahead. Frankly, as good as this chutney is just as you finish it, the flavors blend together even better after a few days of the chutney sitting in the refrigerator. Make this on a weekend and use a dollop of it throughout the week for your dinners.

How can the kids get involved in this? Lu loves chopping apples and onions with her nylon chef knives. Since the final chutney has a rough-hewn look to it, let the kids go crazy with their ragged cuts here.

gluten-free zucchini bread

We love potlucks in this house.

There’s something humble and lovely about a potluck. Sure, dinner parties are great: the day of prepping and anticipation, the smells coming from the kitchen, the moment of lowering the main course onto the table and listening to everyone’s happy sighs. But the only problem with dinner parties? You only eat your own food.

We’re lucky to have friends who are good cooks and food lovers. They’re not all chefs or food writers, thank goodness. (It’s good to have some variety in our lives, after all.) They’re people who love to laugh, sit around on the deck and talk about the lack of sleep we’re all getting with toddlers, have strong opinions and gentle hearts, and don’t mind a slightly messy house. Nobody worries about what to bring to the potluck. They all love food.

We love our friends. We never get to see them enough.

So, just a few weeks ago, we started a new tradition at our house: open Sunday potlucks.

Every Sunday, from 9:30 to 12:30, our house is open. Whoever can make it that week with a dish of delicious gluten-free food is welcome. This means that every Sunday, we have a different group of friends, a table laden with food, and small children running around the yard giggling.

Plus, to be honest, it forces us to spend a couple of hours every Sunday morning cleaning the house. If you want a clean house, throw a party. This place is actually starting to look pretty good!

Last week, we went to the thrift store on the island and bought a big stack of plates and a box full of coffee cups (wow, there are a lot with kittens on them), each for 50 cents. We keep them in the laundry room, after we have washed them, and bring them out for the next potluck. No more paper plates to throw away. Plus, the person who receives the Golf Maniac coffee cup always laughs.

Each week I have been trying out new baked goods on the crowd. A couple of weeks ago I made what I thought was the first attempt at a zucchini bread, with dried cherries and sunflower seeds. Every one of the people there — none of them on a gluten-free diet — told me, “You’re done. This is amazing.” None of them missed the gluten at all.

We know that soon the weather will turn chilly. (It started to feel like fall this week, that certain slant of light, as Emily Dickinson called it.) We’ll have to move all the food, the children, and the cups into the house. We can’t wait. The laughter will be bouncing off the walls.

zucchini bread with dried sour cherries and sunflower seeds


Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread with Dried Cherries and Sunflower Seeds
, adapted from Simply Recipes

The deer ate our zucchini this year. They pretty much ate everything in the garden. So of course, the summer I am bereft of zucchini is the summer I just HAVE to make gluten-free zucchini bread for the first time.

This zucchini bread recipe is adapted from the lovely Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes. You know about Elise, right? She is humble and smart and incredibly generous. More pertinent here, her recipes always work. If I ever want to make something for the first time, I check out what Elise has done first.

This recipe makes two small loaves of zucchini bread, if you have 5 x 9 pans. Baking this zucchini bread is what made me realize we have gargantuan loaf pans, much bigger than 5 x 9. If that’s your story too, then you can make one big loaf, as we did. (The baking time will be longer.)

Buying zucchini is worth it for this bread.

Reminder: I give you the flours in weight because that is the only way to ensure the recipe works for you. If you still haven’t bought a kitchen scale, please do! In the meantime, try this conversation chart if you insist on measuring in cups.

60 grams teff flour
60 grams oat flour (make sure it’s certified gf)
60 grams superfine brown rice flour
240 grams sweet rice flour
1 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups fresh-grated zucchini
2/3 cup (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven t0 350°. Grease 2 5 by 9 loaf pans.

Mixing the dry ingredients
. Sift the teff flour, oat flour, superfine brown rice flour, and sweet rice flour into a large bowl. Mix in the guar gum, xanthan gum, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg. Set aside.

Making the batter. Combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the grated zucchini and melted butter. Stir, gently. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the top of the mixture, then gently stir them in. Add the flour combination to the mix, 1/3 at a time, stirring after each addition. Add the dried cherries and sunflower seeds and stir until they are combined.

Baking the bread. Slide the loaf pans into the oven. Bake the zucchini bread until the tops are browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven. Allow the bread to cool for 20 minutes, then turn the pans over and gently release the breads onto a waiting cooling rack.

Makes 2 loaves of zucchini bread.