Tears and Bloodshed and Blueberry Pecan Bread
There’s a light breeze blowing this morning. The humidity is low, and it’s cool enough to enjoy a cup of coffee on the deck while I write, which is to say that it’s an all too rare, comfortable summer morning. I’m hunkered down to share a story with you about blueberry bread. It’s a recipe I found in my mom’s recipe box, but one I can’t ever remember her making. Turns out, it’s a delicious bread and it’s perfect with my coffee. I’m thinking about mom, wishing I could ask her where the recipe came from. I’ll never know how she feels about my replacing the vegetable shortening with butter and the sour cream with yogurt. My thoughts are interrupted by a nearby chickadee: fee-beee, fee-beee. The black-capped male bird is perched on a cottonwood branch somewhere above me.
I feel a little like whistling too. Our sweltering summer has offered few mornings as lovely as this one. I scan the branches searching for the bird that’s serenading me and think about my blessings.
I head to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee, my pace slow and leisurely. I’m in no hurry for this morning to end. The chickadee is still singing when I return to my chair and a cardinal has joined his band: purdy, purdy, purdy. I open my notebook to a new page and add this blank slate–this fresh start always filled with possibility–to my list of blessings. Before I can mar the whiteness I remember the golden zucchini sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be sliced and roasted for yet another Pan Bagnat. This summer all baking and roasting must be done early before the inevitable heat of the day sets in, but I’m reluctant to move from this spot. Thinking of my promise to Greg that I’d make our favorite sandwich for tonight’s picnic dinner gets me moving. We’re spending the evening at Ravinia, our local outdoor music venue. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a starry night, the man I love, good food, and a special occasion bottle of wine–yes, it’s going to be a good day indeed.
Steam is rising from my coffee as I push the chair back from the table. I’ll have the zucchini slices in the oven in short order before my coffee even has a chance to cool. In the kitchen, I’m whistling my own summer song as I slice the bright yellow squash on my mandolin. The squash makes a rhythmic melody too as it glides along the steel.
And then, in an instant, in a whoosh, my soundtrack comes to an abrupt end. My hand slips off the squash and my thumb slides along the steel. I pull my hand away, too late. I race for the paper towels. It’s bad. I know this before I can muster the courage to look at it. I’m sweating all over. I peek at my thumb; the chunky tip is still attached like a flap though a big sliver of my nail is gone. I’m firing the f-word over and over again so rapidly that it’s hard to tell where the word starts or ends. It’s difficult to tell how bad the cut is–there’s so much damn blood. And now I’m crying, hard, because it really f#$@ing hurts. I want my mommy in the worst way, a feeling I seldom own. In the midst of it all I’m back to thinking about mom. When was the last time I really ached for her?
Greg is at the office. If he were here he’d be a nice consolation prize, but only after I endured a condescending lecture on the finer points of using the mandolin. A lecture isn’t what I need. Then again, I don’t know what I need. Stitches maybe? Should I call Greg? What if I pass out? Who would know?
I manage to pull myself together even as I’m still sobbing. No, Greg can’t help me from his office and hearing my voice thick with tears would only cause him to panic. My heartbeat is pounding in the tip of my thumb. It’s so intense I’m reminded of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, and I hold my thumb to my ear. It’s silent. I pull the towel away to see if the bleeding has stopped. Nope. Damn. How can such a tiny digit give up so much blood? The “urgent care” clinic up the street will be an all morning affair, because no one on staff there ever moves at a pace that might suggest urgency. Scratch that.
The bleeding continues but I’ve finally stopped crying. I’m surprised by how cathartic it felt to cry that hard. When was the last time I had a good cry? Hmmm. I wrap a clean paper towel around my thumb, secure it with masking tape and squeeze my hand into a rubber glove. The kitchen is quiet as I pick up what remains of my pretty squash and slowly guide it down the mandolin with my shaking hand. It moves so slowly across the blade that it doesn’t make a sound. No whoosh. No whistling. I finish slicing without maiming myself and thoroughly wash the squash slices. Olive oil. Salt. There, done.
I trade my makeshift Band-aid for the real thing and at last return to the deck. My coffee is cold. The chickadee is gone. And so is the cardinal. My head is heavy from crying. I pick up my pen and face the blank page. It alone is unchanged, and it’s waiting for me.
Blueberry Pecan Bread
1 1/2 cups pecans, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup milk
1 large loaf pan (9 by 5-inch) or 4 mini loaf pans (5-3/4 by 3-1/4-inch)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of the loaf pan(s) with cooking spray. Evenly sprinkle a 1/2 cup of pecans over the bottom of the pan.
- Gently toss together the blueberries with 1/4 cup flour.
- Combine the remaining flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Whisk together melted butter, yogurt, milk, and eggs. Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Don’t over mix. Add the remaining pecans and blueberries. Spread batter into prepared pan.
- Bake for 75-90 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. (Adjust the baking time if you are using smaller loaf pans.)
- Let pan cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
- Remove warm bread from the pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 large loaf or 4 small loaves.