always a right time

life in the country

Take me to the country, where farms and fields hug the highways and roadside stands sell 14 EARS OF SWEET CORN for $4 total, and I am powerless to resist it all.

It won’t matter that I have no idea what to do with the corn, for example. It won’t matter that I am one person and 14 ears of corn are, well, an awfully large amount of corn for one person. I will take them, hug them in a green plastic bag, set them in the back seat while we go antiquing in a sleepy town named Sandwich and to a little diner that sells chicken fries and mini hamburgers. And I’ll keep telling you things like, This is fresh sweet corn! The kind where I can look at the field it grew in! Straight from the farm! And you’ll know I am a happy girl.

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a sneak peek

food loves writing blog party

Saturday night, we celebrated this blog’s first year with The Big Party—the same one I announced in June, back when summer was just beginning and we were looking ahead to months of longer daylight and warmer temperatures, and August seemed a very long time away, like July 4 or going-back-to-school or the Labor Day picnics we’ll have in a few weeks. I felt then (still do, if I’m honest) a little silly about the whole thing—a blog party?—and yet, now here I am, on the other side of things, having met a few of you I hadn’t known before, a few of you I’d reconnected with through blogging and many of you who are the kind of friends I know will be there through anything, including if I said tomorrow I’m Going to Do This All Again Next Weekend and Will You Help Me, because, well, you’re amazing and sacrificial and thank you, so, so much, I don’t deserve a bit of it.

I can hardly believe all that’s left now is the fun work of recapping this last birthday week, but here it begins:

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the ones I’ve wanted

chocolate POM cupcakes

Before I say anything else, I have to say one thing: wow. You guys are something.

I still get a little choked up when I think about your comments on that last post—from you who, for the most part, do not know me or my family. You hear bloggers saying all the time how overwhelmed they get when these readers—strangers, in a lot of ways—come around them and wrap them in kindness and empathy and friendship, and I feel like I understand that now. I just can’t say thank you enough, so, again, thank you.

That said, you’ve been so kind to take part in the giveaway (two more days left! ending Saturday!) and to talk with me about Grandma, and the whole time with not a recipe in sight, so that here it is Thursday already, and I’m pulling out these cupcakes, so believe me when I say, these are not just any cupcakes.

POM juice

First, they’re made with POM Wonderful juice—do you know it? The people behind it sent me a case last week, along with three typed pages detailing the health benefits (to name a few: antioxidants, better blood flow, decrease in arterial plaque in elderly patients, good for your overall heart health), and that alone was enough to make me curious. As far as taste, it’s reminiscent of cranberry juice, or it has the texture of cranberry juice, which is strange to say because I didn’t realize there was a distinct texture to the juice until I tried this, and there’s almost a slight fizzy quality, even though it’s totally and only 100% POM Wonderful juice (Wonderful, by the way, refers to the type of pomegranate).

And as if health benefits and good taste weren’t enough, this juice has one more thing going for it, and it’s a thing you’re going to guess pretty easily: it makes some really good chocolate cupcakes.

cupcakes unfrosted

As someone who makes just fine cupcakes on a regular basis, what I’ve been needing, I’ve thought for a while now, is a recipe that is as easy as baking cookies but with results far better. And, thanks to the makers of POM juice, I’ve found it.

I am so excited about these cupcakes. For one thing, they’re easy, easy, easy. You don’t even need a mixer (Did you hear that, a certain non-baking, we-don’t-even-have-sugar-in-our-house, but-I-inspire-the-world-with-my-vegetables friend? This is the baking beginning! The first step in something great!). Also, they’re flawless—moist and dense without being heavy, chocolatey with nuances of something akin to cranberry or cherry. And when you bring one to your mouth, pulling its fluffy little dome out of the paper wrapper, the wonderful bakery smell all over your kitchen, you will forget every bad cupcake you’ve ever made, I swear.

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for Caroline, the first year

grandma in the kitchen

This is my grandma, Caroline. She liked to cook. What kills me about this photo is that even though it was taken years before I was born (that’s my mom bouncing in the lower right corner), it shows her kitchen exactly as I remember it, with those same cabinets, the big sink beneath a window to the backyard, an eat-in area to the left just beyond the stretch of countertops.

Grandma lived in the kitchen, and by that I don’t mean she wasn’t as alive when she was working in the garden or driving to our house or watching I Love Lucy, but rather that, when she was standing over a counter or watching sauce simmer or pulling trays of cookies out of the oven, she was just so, you know, happy about it—and in an era when that was kind of what she had to be doing, not necessarily because it was the thing she had chosen out of a hundred options like you and I have today, but the thing she was given and took, with arms wide open.

Today is the day she died, ten years ago, after a year of suffering that included selling her house and moving into a room in ours, sleeping in a bed with me nearby in case something happened in the night, being in and out of hospitals and eating very little. And afterward, before the funeral, it was my job to put together an album of her life, to assemble all the photographs in a thick binder, and, wouldn’t you know it, I found six or seven similar photos to the one above, at different periods of her life, each with Grandma standing over a counter, or the stove, or a table spread with food to eat, focused and happy.

grandma wedding cake

I guess it’s kind of strange to start something as mundane as a blog on the anniversary of a painful memory like the death of someone you love. But, I’ve often thought, in the days leading up to this one-year anniversary of my food blog and ten-year anniversary of losing my grandma, it is a redemption, wherein August 4 is no longer just a day of ending but a day of beginning and, a reminder that joy can come from sorrow.

The day she died was three weeks from my 17th birthday. I’d just learned to drive and was approaching my senior year of high school. What I didn’t know while I wrote something to say at the funeral (which I would completely sob through) was that six months later, my mom would have quadruple-bypass open heart surgery, and six months after that, I would move more than 300 miles away from home. It was going to be a hard year, because of those big things and also because of other, smaller ones, and it would all begin there, when life, and relationships, became more precious.

I could tell you it’s difficult to face hard things when you’re young, or ever. I could say it changes you, ages you, so that you become the kind of person who likes talking to people your parents’ ages and, cries easily and, reads, more than she goes out with friends. But I’d be leaving out the grace you find along the way, that you’ll later see found you, that brought peace out of pain.

grandma

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Win a Destination Dinner!

giveawaytext

(Update 8/8/09: This contest has closed, but you can still feel free to Tweet, blog and write about us, as well as become a fan of us on Facebook!)

Things are happening around here. Tomorrow marks this blog’s one-year anniversary. We’re having a party. We now have a Facebook page.

So to add further to the celebrations, I am giving things away! (thanks to very gracious sponsors!) At the party, there will be cookbooks and yummy desserts and prize packages and bottles of Country Bob’s sauce. But for all of you who don’t live around here or who can’t come for some reason, there’s something else.

destination dinners

Remember that Destination Dinner I tried out a few weeks ago? The one where you take a trip through your taste buds, sampling new cuisine with an easy-to-follow guide that provides everything but the perishables you need to grab?

There are actually twelve destinations to choose from, ranging from Japan to Lebanon to Israel to Korea. And the folks behind Destination Dinner are giving one recipe kit, of the winner’s choice, away here!

The contest starts NOW and will end at 7 PM CST this Saturday, August 8 (the same time that something else is beginning, ahem). The winner will be selected via a random number generator and contacted via e-mail Sunday, at which point he or she will be able to choose a kit, which will be mailed out directly through Destination Dinners.

(Plus, between you and me, there might be a prize for the runner-up, too, and it might involve homemade cookies.)

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