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Thursday, July 28, 2011


I’d like to say something poetic about Manhattan’s summer. Describe the shining sun, the clear sky, and children running barefoot in the playground making it all sound like a postcard or the beginning of a movie, but that would be total hypocrisy, not poetry. It’s so desperately hot in here that the streets look like a communal wet T-shirt contest.
It doesn’t smell like summer breeze, but like decomposing trash, and if my kids dared to run barefoot in the playground, they know I would suffer an immediate heart attack.

Nevertheless, the sticky season doesn’t stop me from loving the masochist life of a New Yorker. I guess it comes with the territory, and my adoration for this town doesn’t even dissolve in the gallons of sweat that my glands have produced this past month--although I wouldn’t mind a well air conditioned summer house.

In all fairness, one good thing about summer is camp. For example, just last week, while my kids were swimming, beading, painting flower pots, cheering and having the time of their lives, my dear friend T and I traveled downtown to the Union Square Farmers’ Market. I hadn’t been there in a whole year. I used to work a couple of blocks away and walked to buy produce, but once I started baking Uptown, those shopping trips became more like tourist expeditions.

It was nice to come out of the steaming subway station and be greeted by the scent of strawberries at the pick of their season. I completely felt like a tourist discovering a new site. Maybe there’s something about seeing produce under the natural light of Manhattan’s shiny sun and clear sky, or feeling a bit rural in the middle of the most urban of places…With the fascination, i started acting like a stereotypical traveler. I observed, touched, tasted, smelled, photographed and spent all the cash I had. I bought corn, nectarines, peaches, berries, plums, zucchini, basil, string beans, tomatoes, red currants, curious-looking baby garlic. I felt like a collector instead of a housewife. Everything was fragrant and bright colored and those very simple things made me incredibly happy.

On our taxi ride back home (yes, we splurged, as we learned from a previous experience that the wait at for the 6 train in July at the
Union Square stop is like making a human consommé in your own juices) some of my fruit got bruised and a bit too soft with the heat. I decided then to continue its baking (in my oven this time) and turned it into a crisp. That easy, forgiving and always delicious dessert was exactly what my fruit needed. And I loved savouring the echoes of my visit to the green market every time the nectarines and the blueberries melted slowly in my mouth.

This is my master recipe and it’s very flexible. In the fall and winter, I use apples, pears and dried fruit (substituting by weight) instead stone fruits and berries. I rarely peel the fruit, why waste the fiber and the time? Sometimes I add ¼-1/2 teaspoon of spices like cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and/or reduce oats to ½ cup in the topping and add ½ cup chopped seeds, nuts and/or oat bran. If the fruit is amazingly sweet, I forgo the sugar almost completely. In general I’m not a big fan of shortening, even if it’s trans-fat free and I substitute it for oil, however, for this crisps, the shortening makes the topping softer and nicer.

Super Ingredients: Seasonal fruit!!! Full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, rolled oats, whole grain flour and spices, seeds and nuts (if used)

1 1/2 pounds organic* stone fruit (nectarines, plums, peaches, etc) cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 cups (10 oz) organic* berries
1/3 cup (2 oz) coconut sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit)
juice of half lemon (fresh!)
2 tablespoons tapioca starch

1 cup (31/2 oz) rolled oats
1/4 cup (1 oz) whole oat or spelt flour
1/3 cup (2 oz) coconut sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (2 oz) Spectrum (trans fat free) shortening (or grape seed, sunflower seed or olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Toss together all filling ingredients in a 2-quart baking dish.
Blend together all topping ingredients in a medium bowl with your fingertips until shortening is evenly distributed and mix is crumbly.
Sprinkle oat toping over filling and bake until oat mixture is golden and fruit is bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Serve warm, if possible.  

*Peaches, nectarines, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, celery, apples, bell peppers, spinach, kale, potatoes and grapes (known as “the dirty dozen”) are the produce with the heaviest load of pesticides, so try to buy organic when you purchase any of these.

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