Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Zucchini Pickles

So how do I love zucchini? Oh, let me count the ways. We can probably all agree that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was absolutely not thinking of zucchini when she wrote her famous Sonnets from the Portuguese. However, who could not be inspired by it. And so this sonnet led me to think of all the ways I love zucchini. Why? Because I needed to figure out how to put to good use the second delivery of freshly picked from the garden zucchini I received this weekend (this time it came with a loaf of freshly made zucchini bread). If my neighbors were turning their gifts of zucchini into bread, I had to take the making of zucchini bread off the list as I could not inundate them with even more zucchini bread (Well, I could if I were in a competitive mode and wanted to be the baker of the best zucchini bread. Decided it was best to temper my competitive spirit, at least for the moment). 

If summer is all about burgers on the grill and sandwiches packed for the beach, then what better use for the zucchini than zucchini pickles to give burgers and sandwiches a little bit of sweet crunch! If you love bread and butter pickles or are looking for a change of pace from dill pickles, then you will love Zuni Cafe's zucchini pickle recipe. I would describe these pickles as having a very similar flavor to bread and butter pickles. 

However, if you are someone who has been reluctant to make pickles because you thought it required all sorts of canning equipment and hours of slaving over the stove, well I have a surprise for you. The making of these pickles is so easy that you might find yourself going to the farmer's market more often this summer (unless of course you are fortunate enough to be the recipient of pounds and pounds of zucchini). It is quite possible these pickles will make you a little bit of celebrity at your family barbecues this summer (not that you are someone who likes to receive any attention for the dish you bring or have even a slight competitive spirit).

It only takes one pound of zucchini and one small yellow onion to make a batch of the pickles. Look for the smaller or 1 to 1 1/2 inch in diameter zucchini as they will make for a more beautiful pickle. The oversized zucchinis are best used for breads or cakes where this vegetable is grated. Choose a yellow or Vidalia onion, but please know that red or white onions will not work here.

The original recipe called for cutting the zucchini into 1/16 inch slices, however, I wanted these pickles to have a little more substance so I cut them to 1/8 inch. The slicing is made easier with a mandoline but a great sharp knife, steady hands and a good eye works just as well.

The onions are thinly sliced as well. As it was just one little yellow onion that needed slicing, a knife worked perfectly.

Once the zucchini and onions are sliced and placed in large glass bowl (you do not want to use a metal bowl here), sprinkle with two tablespoons of Kosher salt. Adding a few ice cubes and enough cold water to cover them, they marinate for about an hour. After an hour, check to see if the zucchini are slightly softened. Mine were perfect after an hour.

The zucchini and onions are drained, patted dry and then placed in clean glass bowl. I like to use one of the oversized pyrex measuring cups here as it makes it easy to pour the brine in the jars.  In the last 10 minutes of vegetables marinating in the salt bath, you can begin making the brine. Cider vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric are combined in a small saucepan. This mixture is simmered for about 3 to 4 minutes (until the sugar dissolves) and then set aside. The mixture should be warm but not hot (as you will cook the vegetables) when poured over the zucchini and onions.

After the brine is poured over the vegetables, you gently stir to ensure all of the spices are evenly distributed. Using a fork, fill jars with the zucchini and onions. Pour the brine into the jars, seal and put into the refrigerator.  Allow the pickles to remain in the refrigerator for 24 hours for their flavors to fully develop and for the brine to become a beautiful chartreuse. Like the sonnets written by Browning, these  zucchini pickles could easily become a timeless classic.
Zucchini Pickles (slight adaptation of a recipe from Zuni Cafe)

1 pound zucchini (choose ones at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter), sliced to 1/8 of an inch
1 small yellow onion or Vidalia, very thinly sliced 
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Combine the sliced zucchini and onion in large, but shallow glass bowl. Add salt and toss to fully distribute. Add a few ice cubes and enough cold water to cover. Then stir to dissolve the salt. Allow to sit for 1 hour.
2. After 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini, it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.
3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and summer for at least 3 minutes (until sugar is dissolved). Set aside until just warm to the touch (if brine is too hot it will cook the vegetables making them soft instead of crisp).
4. Return the zucchini and onions to dry bowl. Pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices.
5. Transfer pickles to jars. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 day to allow flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini.

Almost all of the houses in the town I live in are surrounded by beautiful stone fences (walls) built, in some cases, more than two centuries ago and still standing the test of time. I continue to be mesmerized by the beauty and endurance of these stone fences each time I am cycling or driving. But there is another fence I see every day that causes me to take pause. If there is such a thing as a fence being both elegant and beautiful, then the ornate iron fence with two iron gates going the length of the front of a rather large old house, would be it. And if the iron fence wasn't its' own work of art, the remaining three sides of the house are surrounded by deep stone walls. Like the stone fences, this iron fence has also stood the test of time, reflecting a bygone era of incredible craftsmanship. When walking by this fence I have been known to momentarily feel like I have time traveled back to a different century as it has that much of a presence.

It is the endurance of both stone and iron fences that makes them even more beautiful, more amazing on so many different levels. Does anyone really know when they create something whether or not it will endure? Does anyone think endurance is still important in the creation process? Did Elizabeth Barrett Browning think that the sonnets she had written more than 150 years ago would be ones still read, still loved? Who knows, but quite possibly. Every once in awhile you get lucky enough to get involved in a project that you know is bigger than yourself and all of the people involved in it. You know this because it has all of the hallmarks of becoming a legacy. There is a certain amount of incredible energy (expended energy and created energy) that comes with being involved in such a project. Because on some unspoken level you have the sixth sense that every obstacle, every challenge, and every conflict in the project needs to be overcome. Yes, if you are lucky enough to be involved in such a project, you learn to appreciate even more the values of endurance, commitment, and persistence. Not just at a project's beginning, but long past its' completion.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rustic Apple Crostata

Earlier this week I had gone out to dinner with several friends and by time dessert came around I was the only one too full to order any. Our server brought the desserts ordered with extra spoons and forks, just in case, anyone wanted to have just a taste. (Always the sign of a very observant server.) And ever since taking a bite of the hot apple crisp topped with cinnamon ice cream (my mouth said no dessert, but my eyes said yes dessert when it came to the table) I have been craving the taste of a warm apple concoction of some sort. Having immersed myself in Italian cookbooks as of late, my thoughts immediately went to thinking I would make a Rustic Apple Crostata. I had some leftover streusel from the Blueberry Muffin Cake I didn't want to go to waste and thought it might go perfectly on top of it.

So what is not to love about a tart dough having butter and cream cheese as two of its' ingredients? Alison Pray and Tara Smith share their recipe for a Rustic Tart Dough in their most recent cookbook "Standard Baking Company Pastries". This is a dough they use for their hand formed galettes (otherwise known as Rustic Tarts). It is a dough recipe I have been wanting to make for awhile now but I just needed an incentive to make it. As much as I bake, I have genuinely avoided, with a few exceptions, making desserts and pastries requiring a homemade dough. But finally, I had a reason to work on overcoming my 'dough making aversion' habit. Just one bite of a friend's apple dessert was enough to push me into the dough making arena. Who knows a whole new world of pastry making opportunities could be in my future.

With the dough decision made, I had to figure out what the filling would be or more specifically what apple I would use. Some crostatas are made with McIntosh or Macoun apples, however, for me there is nothing better than a crisp or tart made with Granny Smith apples. I love their crispness, their tartness. Next to Honey Crisp apples, Granny Smith apples are the only other apple I eat. So with the crostata filling decision made, all I needed to do was to begin the process of making the dough. "Breathe" I told myself, you can do this!

What I love about this dough recipe is that the butter and cream cheese need to be chilled. Which means there is no planning ahead to have either of them come to room temperature. I used an 'American-made" unsalted butter as that is what I had in the refrigerator. Next time I make this crostata I will try using one of the European unsalted butters as they are little more flavorful in pastry dough (due to their higher fat content). 

And I can already tell you there will be a next time as this dough comes together so nicely. If you too have been suffering from the curable malady known as dough making aversion, this is a dough that will make you wonder why you suffered for so long. And this a dough that gets easier as you can use either a pastry cutter or your finger tips (i.e., no food processor).  I used my finger tips as I wanted to get a feel for the dough (both literally and figuratively). Once the flour, salt and baking powder are whisked together you blend in the butter first. You are looking to get a consistency of pea sized chunks. The cream cheese is then blended in (again I used my fingers) and the texture changes to a coarse meal. At this point you add the cold water and use a fork or your fingers to gently toss the ingredients together.

When the dough comes together, you carefully form the dough into a loose ball and flatten to a disc. After wrapping the dough into plastic wrap, you chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour (I waited three hours) or overnight.

On lightly floured surface you roll out the dough to a diameter of approximately 11 inches. This will give you a tart dough about 1/8 inch thick. It rolls out beautifully. I mean really beautifully. Placing the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, it is wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for at least an hour before you bake it.

For the crostata filling you will need 1.5 pounds of apples. These Granny Smith apples were on the large size so I only needed three of them. If you are using medium sized apples, you will need four.

The apples are peeled, cored and then cut into half inch slices. The easiest way to get half inch apple slices is to first quarter the apples and then cut each quarter into three slices. 

The apples are tossed with a mixture of flour, sugar, Kosher salt, Saigon cinnamon, and ground allspice. To give the baked dough a little more color and a surface for some sprinkled sugar to adhere to it, a egg wash using one egg and a pinch of salt is make.

Once the apples are completed coated, remove the dough from the refrigerator and pile apples up leaving a 3 inch border around the edge. 

After mounding all of the apples, you will bring up the sides of the dough, folding (or pleating) over the apples. Brush the sides of the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

The streusel topping is optional but I thought it would add to the rusticness of the tart. I used one cup of the streusel topping I had made for Blueberry Muffin Cake.

In a preheated 425 degree oven you bake the tart for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes you reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate the tart and bake for additional 35 minutes (or until the pastry is a dark golden brown and the folds of the dough no longer have a translucent appearance). My baking time was 33 minutes. You remove the baked crostata from the oven and place onto a wire rack to cool slightly. After 10 minutes you can transfer to a platter and serve warm with or without ice cream or whipped cream. It is delicious all on its' own, but I would suggest serving it with either vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. The tart is equally delicious at room temperature, making it a perfect dessert to bring to a picnic or gathering.

Rustic Apple Crostata (adaptations from the Standard Baking Company "Pastries" cookbook and Ina Garten's "Parties"cookbook)

Crostata Dough
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur Flour)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1/3 cup cream cheese, cubed and chilled
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ice cold water

Apple Mixture
1.5 pounds of a tart baking apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch slices (recommend Granny Smith apples)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (plus additional for sprinkling on egg washed tart dough)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (recommend Saigon cinnamon)
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Egg Wash
1 large egg
pinch of Kosher salt

Streusel Topping
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar1/2 teaspoon salt3/4 cup pecans, toasted6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1" cubes

For Dough
1. In large bowl, whisk together the flour, Kosher salt and baking powder. Blend in butter using a pastry cutter or your fingertips getting the butter reduced to the consistency of pea-sized chunks.
2. Add the cream cheese, blending with either a pastry cutter or your finger tips getting the dough reduced to the consistency of coarse meal.
3. Add water. Using a fork or your fingertips, gently toss until most of the dry ingredients are moistened. Note: It will still look a little crumbly.
4. Pour dough mixture out onto a board forming into a loose ball and gently flattening it to a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
5. After dough has chilled, roll out to an 11 inch circle on a floured surface. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour or until ready to assemble the crostata.

Crostata Filling
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, all-spice and salt. Toss apples into mixture and mix until all apples are evenly coated.
2. On the chilled tart dough, pile the apples leaving a 3 inch border.
3. Gently fold the dough border over the apples, pleating it to make a circle.
4. Brush egg wash over the dough. Sprinkle with sugar.
5. Top apple mixture with 1 cup of streusel mixture.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake crostata for 10 minutes. 
2. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate tart and continue baking for up to 35 minutes or until pastry is a dark golden brown and the folds of the dough no longer have a translucent appearance.  
3. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting if serving warm. 
4. Optional: Serve with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

There have been some spectacular evening summer skies here lately. I am not sure if or how the ocean changes the colors of the sky, but I don't think I have seen more incredible colors in the skies as of late or from my memories of midwest skies. From pinks to purples to blues to oranges, the skies look like works of art done by Impressionist artists who have painstakingly captured and layered the various hues of color. 

If these blazing colors were not enough to take in, rainbows can be regularly seen here after an afternoon or early evening quick rain storm. Recently when my childhood best friend was visiting we were out in the yard as she was creating a video of the property I live on as well as the farm next door. As we were outside we experienced a light, quick rainstorm lasting only about five minutes. I said we need to look for the rainbow. She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. But like with most great friends, she followed me as I went from the back to the front of the house. And much to her surprise and delight (and my personal satisfaction and redemption) was a beautiful rainbow. Certainly a rainbow wasn't planned image in the video she was taking back home to share with family and friends. If she posts this video to YouTube someday her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is quite interesting.

Sometimes our friends tell us things that we don't believe, don't want to believe, don't hear, selectively don't hear, or change what we hear. Yet we always know when someone is or is not really listening to us by what they say or how they respond. I have been more than a thousand miles away from my family and friends for the past two years and for those that really listen to me, the distance or my time away has not mattered. Sometimes listening is all the validation we need to know that someone genuinely cares about us. And when two people listen to each other, both become more strengthened as individuals and in the friendship. Do you know who strengthens you?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Zucchini and Asparagus Crudi

On days when the humidity is high I try to avoid turning on the oven or the stove. There is no central air-conditioning in this 81 year old farm house, just two window air-conditioning units, one upstairs and one downstairs. So it goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that whenever I add 'heat' to the farm house the air-conditioner's efficiency is even further compromised. Surprisingly, I am getting used to not turning on the 'air' unless I am having company, the humidity is really intolerable or I am getting a more restless sleep than usual. But as acclimated to the heat I am getting, there are limits to how much heat I can or want to endure.

So when my neighbor brought over some freshly picked zucchini from her garden I first considered grilling it on the gas grill I just had to have (such things one buys after experiencing a blizzard with three days of no heat and no power).The thought of grilling on a hot day was not something I wanted to do. And the idea of making a zucchini cake or bread meant heating up the house. Not wanting the zucchini to go to waste, I remembered a recipe I hadn't made in awhile. It was a salad made of fresh, raw zucchini and asparagus and called a crudi. Crudi or crudo literally means 'raw' and is a way of preparing both fish and vegetables using a high end extra-virgin olive oil and some citrus. When Giada DeLaurentiis made this recipe awhile back, I wasn't sure if I would like the taste of raw zucchini and raw asparagus (unless there was a creamy Caesar dressing to dip it into). But the thinly sliced vegetables tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, some salt and pepper were absolutely delicious, refreshing, and a great change of pace from a salad using lettuce as its' base. Certainly so much healthier as well.

All I needed to make the crudi was the asparagus. Fortunately there are two amazing seasonal markets in town selling some great locally grown produce. Unfortunately, I did not just buy some asparagus but walked away with a bouquet of some irresistible Dahlias, a baguette, some garlic, and some tomatoes. I have a tendency to get distracted in these markets. There were a few more things that looked appealing but one needs a reason to go back, right?

The too thin or too thick asparagus does not work in this recipe. It needs to be a somewhere 'in the middle of thickness' asparagus as it needs to be cut thinly on the diagonal. In the making of this crudi I have never done a quick (as in 2 to 3 minutes) blanching on the asparagus before. You could if you wanted, but you really do not have to, you really don't want to.

A vegetable peeler and a knife are the only tools you need for this recipe. The zucchini is trimmed at the ends and then with a vegetable peeler you make long, thin strips. Because the skin of the zucchini is not removed the strips of the zucchini look like ribbons of white with green edges. So this dish is not just delicious, it is beautiful.

Once you have prepared the vegetables, the dressing is assembled. Using the best extra-virgin olive you can find (my favorite is Frankies 457) or the best tasting extra-virgin olive oil of your choice, is critical in this dressing. You want it to be light, yet rich in flavor. Freshly squeezed lemon juice, some Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper are all mixed in with the extra-virgin olive oil. These four ingredients create an incredibly flavorful dressing for the asparagus and zucchini.

Once tossed together the salad is plated on a platter and shavings of Pecorino Romano cheese are added. The sharpness of the cheese is a perfect compliment to the salad. 

This salad is best served after it has been tossed with dressing. Because the Zucchini and Asparagus Crudi does not take long to prepare you might consider making it all summer long. Especially if you or your neighbors are growing zucchini (and this could be a year for a bumper crop of zucchini).

Zucchini and Asparagus Crudi (slightly adapted from a recipe created by Giada DeLaurentiis)

2 medium sized zucchini (ends trimmed)
1 bunch of asparagus (ends trimmed) - semi-thick asparagus works best
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (highly recommend Frankies 457)
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from one small lemon)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce of shaved Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Using a vegetable peeler, slice long strips of zucchini.
2. Cut the asparagus thinly, on a diagonal 
3. Combine the sliced zucchini and asparagus in a bowl and set aside.
4. Whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, Kosher salt and pepper. Pour over vegetable and toss.
5. Transfer mixture to a platter. Add shavings of Pecorino Romano cheese over the top. Serve immediately.

I have shared before there were mostly canned vegetables served at the dinner table of my youth. Asparagus was one of those vegetables. It wasn't until I was out of college that I tasted what perfectly cooked asparagus actually tasted like. And it was not the mushy canned asparagus served at our dinner table. I remember the first time I made fresh asparagus at a dinner for my husband's family. My mother-in-law actually liked it. Unbeknownst to me she asked my husband how I made it. He shared that I had brought water to a boil and submerged the asparagus for approximately 12 to 14 minutes. When he shared this with me, I said the asparagus wasn't cooked that long, just somewhere between 6 to 8 minutes. This comment was immediately followed by 'you need to call her and tell her you gave her the wrong information'. To that he said 'my mom has been cooking asparagus for up to 20 minutes for the last 30 years (replicating the texture of canned asparagus is my guess), so you don't take someone who has been cooking it for 20 minutes to somewhere between 6 and 8 minutes the first time as its' too much of a change for them.' And my response started something like 'but....'. But then I saw the wisdom in those words, the wisdom that not everyone can make such drastic changes in their cooking (or in their lives) too quickly. Sometimes they need to do it gradually.

We all fall somewhere along the continuum of loving/embracing or disliking/avoiding change in our personal and professional lives. Where we fall can be influenced by context, our prior experiences and/or ability to be open to possibility. When faced with change our energies can be directed to sabotaging it or figuring how to make it make it work. We may never know where the change that lies before us will take us or how it could affect our lives unless we 'take that leap of faith'. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blueberry Muffin Cake with Streusel Crumb Top

The weather here yesterday went from sunny, to cloudy, to rainy, and back to sunny again. It was as if Mother Nature could not make up her mind as to what she wanted to do (so nice to have a kindred spirit as this is how I felt yesterday as well). But once the sun came out, I thought about heading to the beach. but then thought about picking some blueberries at the blueberry farm down the road from where I live. In the end I decided to do both (no surprise there). First the blueberry picking, then the beach. I would use the time at the beach to read and think about what I wanted to do with the blueberries.

If you have not picked blueberries before or felt connected to an inner Laura Ingalls Wilder (hint: Little House on the Prairie), you are missing out on this fun little experience. Picking blueberries could not be easier. All you do is put a little bucket around your waist, walk through the aisles of blueberry bushes and pick the ripest, most beautiful blueberries you can find. And oh yes, you get to test a few as you pick them (a little nourishment for the work you are doing, the incentive to keep going). In less than an hour I was able to pick two pounds of blueberries. That was the easy part. What I would do with these blueberries that I had handpicked was a tad more difficult as there were so many choices.

I had seen a recipe for Blueberry Muffin Cake in the August/September issue of Fine Cooking and thought maybe this is what I would do with some of the blueberries. But I thought the recipe was missing something. That something would be a streusel topping. I mean really, a blueberry muffin without a streusel topping? Is that not like toast with butter, bagels without cream cheese, or oatmeal without a little brown sugar? Yes, yes and yes. I remembered that Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito had a great recipe for a streusel topping that they made to go along with one of their coffee cake recipes in their Baked cookbook. So the decision was made. At least two cups of the handpicked blueberries would go into a Blueberry Muffin Cake with Streusel Crumb Top. I could hardly for the morning so I could bake and fill the house the the aroma of baked goodness.

While this is a recipe using butter, sugar, eggs, and nuts (always the making of something divinely delicious), the most important ingredient is the blueberries. Ripe, beautiful blueberries. Particularly ones harvested in the summer.

The recipe for the streusel topping was enough for one 9x13 cake or two 9 inch cakes. Rather than cutting the recipe in half I decided that I would use half for this recipe and half for another. Maybe I would even make two Blueberry Muffin Cakes with Streusel Crumb Top. Toasted pecans, flour, butter, dark brown sugar and a little salt are the only ingredients in the streusel.

The flour, dark brown sugar and salt are added to a food processor and mixed until just combined. Next the toasted pecans are added and processed until they are ground into the mixture. Lastly. the cold unsalted butter is added and pulsed until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Transferred to a bowl, covered and placed in the refrigerator the mixture will remain chilled while you assemble the cake.

I absolutely love recipes that don't require the use of a mixer, especially if I am baking in the early morning hours. This is one of those recipes mixed by hand in a bowl. The dry ingredients are sifted into a large bowl and set aside. The wet ingredients are whisked together and added to the dry ingredients until just incorporated. It is important to not over mix this batter.

Once the batter comes together the two cups of blueberries are added and folded in with a spatula. The mixture is then scraped into a 9" springform pan that has been lined with parchment paper. 

The batter is topped with half of the streusel mixture and placed into a 350 degree preheated oven. The recipe called for a baking time of 45 to 55 minutes, however, I found that it needed the 55 minutes (although I checked it for doneness at 45 minutes). During the last ten minutes of baking I placed a sheet of aluminum foil over the top so the streusel topping did not go beyond the color of brown I wanted it to have. The cake is done when a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. For years I did not use a cake tester and instead used a toothpick. While a toothpick can work, I now prefer the use of a cake tester as it is more accurate and does not leave 'large' holes in the top of a cake.

When finished baking, the Blueberry Muffin Cake with Streusel Crumb Top should be left to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before you unmold and serve it. The hardest part of this recipe is waiting as the aroma of the brown sugar and blueberries is intoxicating. On a large round platter or a cake stand, this cake is beautiful to look at. It is not just its' external beauty that makes this cake special, it is its' inner beauty. One taste of this Blueberry Muffin Cake with Streusel Crumb Top and, well let's just say it has an addictive quality to it. And that's not just because it was made with handpicked blueberries!

BlueberryMuffin Cake with Streusel Crumb Top (adapted recipes from Fine Cooking (August/September 2013) and Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)

Streusel (makes enough for two Blueberry Muffin Cakes)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1" cubes

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9" springform pan with parchment paper.
2. For streusel topping: 
a. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulsed until mixed. 
b. Add pecans and pulse until pecans are finely chopped. 
c. Add butter and process until combined. Mixture will look like coarse sand. 
d. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.
3. For batter
a. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt nto large bowl.
b. In smaller bowl whisk the eggs, milk, butter and vanilla.
c. Stir in the wet ingredients to the flour mixture until just incorporated.
d. Fold in berries.
e. Scrape batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly.
f. Top with half of the streusel mixture. Keep the other half of the streusel recipe chilled in the refrigerator and reserve for another use.
g. Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes (I baked mine for 55 minutes) or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Note: During the last 10 minutes of baking cover loosely with aluminum foil if top appears if it is getting too brown.
h. Cool on rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer cake to a serving platter. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

When you walk the aisles of a blueberry farm you find bushes with berries in all stages of ripeness. It is a bush that holds back on its' bounty, releasing its' fruit a little a time. While blueberry picking would go much faster if the berries on the tree were ripe all at the same time, it feels more satisfying to find the ripest berries on the bushes a few at a time. Sort of like the same way it feels to slowly discover the plot of a story or the gifts of a friend. The excitement of the anticipation combined with the energy in the discovery are things than can make your heart race with joy.  And without the investment of time, you might miss out on something or someone important.

And just as the ripeness of the berries change on a blueberry bush, so do we (change that is). Judging something or someone on a first experience or past experience can mean that we don't believe things or people can change. Sometimes that belief can lead us to missing out to an experience or perhaps even a life changing moment. I am one who believes we all grow and evolve. Sometimes we get stuck along the way, but eventually life changes us or we change ourselves. There are parts of me that are the same as when I was 16 years old, but there are other parts of me that are so different from the teenager I once was or even the adult I was several years ago. Quite possibly like a blueberry bush we too release our gifts slowly over time. And those that stay in our lives are the ones to see and experience these changes and quite possibly are rewarded with joy and energy for their investment of time in us. And what about those who see as only as we once were or don't remain in our lives? Well, maybe they either got stuck along the way or maybe they were not destined to be part of our journey.