THE coffee cake

coffee cake

Last weekend gave me other blessings beyond rest—things like roasted garlic hummus (twice! plus some roasted red pepper!) and a new cake plate I bought at the local antique store and, as a real surprise, an hour-long conversation with strangers who felt like old friends at a brunch in Eagle River Sunday.

Also, the morning that we left, just before Bailey and I walked through the forest one last time, I knelt by the same thick and leafy rhubarb plants that had provided the base for the crumble I made here recently, the one I ate with vanilla ice cream, after my parents brought back a bag of rhubarb Memorial Day weekend. I snipped a few dozen stalks, firm and strong, mostly green with flecks of pink at the bases, pulling away their leaves and arranging them in a white plastic bag.

rhubarb

rhubarb plants

rhubarb

As it turned out, the fruit was exactly what I needed to make this rhubarb coffee cake, or, now that I’ve eaten most of it, let’s just say THE rhubarb coffee cake. It’s honestly maybe the best I’ve had, so the definite article seems appropriate—beyond that, my mind gets all fuzzy and my tongue gets tied, and I’m all “mmm” and “wow,” scooping big crumbs from my plate.

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just make these

monkey breads fresh out of the oven

Tomorrow’s the Fourth of July, which means fireworks, outdoor grilling, red-white-and-blue decorations and, for some of us, road trips through the night to the family cabin.

That’s right: I’m saying that beginning sometime around midnight this evening, I will have reached the deep woods, away from everything, including Internet and cell phone usage (except when we get into town, at which point I’m sure to want a Twitter fix, so you can probably check in with me there if you’d like).

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and, I wanted to give you these.

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trust me on this

asparagus salad

As far as vegetables go, asparagus is really something: tall, peaked in pretty tips, stalks cast in deep shades of green, with knobby dark-purple bumps along the sides shaped in tiny triangles. It has no fat or cholesterol, few calories, little sodium, as well as lots of potassium, folic acid, vitamins A & C and fiber. Plus, this time of year it’s just finishing up its two-month-long season, meaning it’s still pretty easy to find at your supermarket.

Of course, just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s fresh—a lesson I learned all too well on Saturday when I pulled out the bunch I’d grabbed the night before and, gasping, extended my arm as far away as possible from my face, hoping to minimize the oh-my-gosh-what-is-it-that-smells-like-death odor assaulting me. A return trip to the store—complete with thorough examining of every remaining bunch of asparagus, conversations with the produce man and the manager, obtainment of two brand-new bunches hidden away in the back cooler— left me confident of three things: 1) Fresh asparagus should not, ever, ever, smell like dirty socks left in a hamper, 2) Nor should it, for any reason, have yellow slime building up between stalks and 3) There’s a reason I spend so much time at Dominick’s: those people are nice.

asparagus salad

When you’re choosing asparagus at the store, don’t assume bunches are fresh just because they all look alike. Search for firm, bright green stalks with tightly closed tips, where the ends look freshly cut, not dried out. And, fun fact: the thickness of the stalks reveals how late in the season the vegetables have been harvested. Thicker stalks = beginning of season. Thinner stalks = later.

Now, if you love asparagus like I do, you’ll already know how good it is roasted in a white-hot oven, smothered in olive oil, when the skin blisters and absorbs all the oil’s fruity flavor. It’s also fantastic grilled over open flames or, boiled and chopped up into Saturday morning omelettes.

But can I make one more suggestion? If you have in your hands a fresh bunch of asparagus, you absolutely have to make this salad. Trust me on this.

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