It all started about 8 years ago with a seemingly unassuming jar of pesto. Not a ziploc bag of pesto. Or a tiny little 1/2 pint jar of pesto. But one of those generously sized Ball jars with the wire hook flip lid filled right up to the brim with homemade pesto and topped off with a thin layer of olive oil. She handed it to me without any pomp and circumstance and non-chalantly said to me, “I was making some pesto and thought you might like some.” I was so moved by my neighbor’s generosity, especially considering that we barely knew each other having recently moved in, that I found myself speechless. A rarity for me. I still have that jar.
Some people have the gift of giving. They just know how to choose the right thing or the perfect moment to bestow a “special something” upon another person. I, on the other hand, was not blessed with that “gift.” The holidays are always fraught with anxiety for me. I never know what to get people. How much to spend. I over-think what they would like. (Remember that Batik shorts outfit I gave you one year, sister?) I do have family members, friends, neighbors who are natural “gift givers” so I can see how it’s done. And I know how it feels to be the recipient of their generosity but…..while I want to be a “pesto-giver” myself, I never can seem to stop talking myself out of all the reasons why someone wouldn’t like what I have to give.
To my absolute thrill over the years, my sweet neighbor did not stop with the pesto. “You have to try this chocolate cake.” “A chocolate truffle.” “We brought you back some halibut from Alaska.” “Thought you might like a ‘homemade’ vanilla latte.” “I brought over these smoked Kokane for you to try along with this rosemary cheddar.” Even her kind daughter started bringing “gifts” over….cookies, fancifully decorated cupcakes. And each time, I was as genuinely grateful as the first time and simply enjoyed basking in the glow of “gift receivers” delight. That is…until my daughter happened to non-chalantly toss out the comment, “Mom, we never give them anything.”….and broke the spell.
I have to admit that after she said that declarative statement to me, I pondered long and hard on it. First, I considered the basic truth that I’m not much of a baker. To say, “Here’s a few strips of our flank steak leftover from dinner.” just doesn’t have the same ring as, “I brought you a slice of my cranberry chocolate tart with homemade caramel sauce drizzled on top.” But, secondly, if I’m completely honest I believe the over-thinking always seems to win out. “They wouldn’t want this. Why would they want this? I don’t want to bother them. I’m sure I’ll be bothering them. They probably don’t even like this kind of food. Maybe they have food allergies. I could’ve made these better. As a matter-of-fact, these aren’t even that good.” And on and on I go until I hear myself say to myself, “Gads…enough already. No one wants to hear it especially me.”
The other day I happened to pop by my dear neighbor’s house for a quick chat and as I turned to go she said to me, “Oh, I almost forgot…” and disappeared around the corner. A second later she was back, “We brought you a bag of blueberries from Hood River.” Walking home, cradling my bag of berries, I remembered a blueberry recipe that I had recently flagged and I knew what I was going to do.
Later, I watched as my daughter headed out the front door with the still warm blueberry crumble. I heard myself say to myself, “Oh, I wish the crumble had more oats. Next time I’m putting more oats in the crumble. Wait a minute….crumble….didn’t they say a few years ago they didn’t like crumble.” But as my daughter passed by the kitchen window, I heard my wiser, kinder-self say, “Enough. Why must you always be so hard on yourself? Let it be what it will be.”
That afternoon, my neighbor’s daughter was over “hanging out” as teenagers often do and she said to me, “Oh, Carrie, I had some of your blueberry dish. It was really good. My Mom only let me have a little bit though. She’s making cinnamon gelato right now and she said we’re going to have that with the crumble tonight for dessert.” My single solitary thought after she said all of this was simply, “Where’s my share of the cinnamon gelato?” Still waiting…
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated 2010
Our Oregon blueberries are amazing right now. If you can get your hands on some, you simply must bring them home by the “flat-full” and either just pop them in your mouth, sprinkle them over yogurt and granola or freeze them later for smoothies or as a topper over vanilla ice cream (the latter being my sweetie’s favorite way to consume blueberries.) Or…make this scrumptious blueberry crumble.
1/2 c granulated sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt (divided)
5 c fresh blueberries
2/3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 c old-fashioned oats
1/3 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and chilled
With your rack on the lower-middle position, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Mix your granulated sugar, cornstarch and 1/8 tsp salt in a large bowl. Add your blueberries and gently toss them to coat evenly with the mixture. Pour out into an 8-inch square baking dish and set aside.
Put your flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and remaining salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until dime sized clumps form. Now, I never really reached the “dime sized” clumps status and ended up using my fingers to clump the crumble into dime-sized clumps. Speaking of fingers, you can also make the crumble without a food processor and instead, use a pastry blender or two knives. Make sure to pinch together all of the powdery parts and then, sprinkle crumble evenly over the berries.
Pop your dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown. Cool on wire rack for at least 30 minutes. My personal preference was eating this at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream….for breakfast. Enjoy.
Yield: 6 servings…..
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010