Imperfect carrots, perfect bread

What to do with a gnarled mass of carrots from the garden? Dad's favorite carrot bread was the only way to go.

Geese winged their way south high above scarlet maples. Their persistent honking was my command, "Hurry, hurry, hurry."

I worked in the garden determined to harvest vegetables before the frost did, picking green tomatoes along with red. They would ripen wrapped in newspaper.

Onions and beets went into the wheelbarrow, and butternut squash was mounded against the fence. Moving to the carrots, I tugged on their faded greens.

What I pulled looked nothing like the carrots gracing the supermarket produce section. Instead of straight, slender taproots, up came tangled carrots reminiscent of modern sculpture, each a fist of twists and turns.

This crop had been disadvantaged from the start. Carrots are best planted in sandy soil so the taproots grow straight. I ran short of sand when preparing the bed, but planted them anyway.

Impatient to complete the task, I ignored the echo of my father's oft-repeated words: "If you're going to do something, you might as well do it right."

These carrots would be torture to peel.

Quickly discarding my plan to peel, slice, cook, and freeze them as too much work, I glanced at the compost pile. Dumped there, the carrots would decompose, enriching the soil for next year's garden. Not a bad exchange of energy, I thought.

"Perfectly good food shouldn't go to waste." My father's words were as clear as if he was leaning over the garden fence surveying my produce.

He had raised me with a cautious, Depression-Era ethos: Clean your plate, waste nothing, give thanks for what you have, don't complain, repair rather than throw away. Restrained by years of his upbringing, I couldn't toss good food away to rot.

I rummaged through cabinets and assembled ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder.

I pulled the blender from the bottom cabinet, half-filled it with water, plopped in scrubbed carrot chunks, and grated the mound of modern art in a jiffy. I mixed, stirred, poured, and baked.

Sixty minutes at 350 degrees F. and all was done.

Later, I relaxed with fragrant tea and a warm, buttered slice of carrot bread. I thought about my father and how much of him dwelt in me: his enjoyment of the outdoors and gardening, his love of learning and books, his quick wit.

We both loved carrot bread.

Unlike him, I don't need things to be perfect. I sometimes cut corners and take the easy way out. That's why I was enjoying carrot bread now instead of sliced carrots at dinner and a freezer filled for later.

I missed my father, who had been in my thoughts all day. I brushed crumbs into my napkin and wished he were beside me at the kitchen table reaching for another slice of carrot bread. He would have been glad I took the easy way out.

Dad's Favorite Carrot Bread

2-1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

4-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1-1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1-1/2 cups coarsely grated carrots

3/4 cup raisins

3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well mixed.

In a large bowl, beat eggs (with whisk or electric mixer) until frothy. Blend in sugar and oil, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to egg mixture until completely moistened. Batter will be very thick. Stir in carrots, raisins, and nuts (if using).

Pour batter into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. (See note below.) Bake 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing from the pan to cool.

Makes about 12 servings.

Note: If your loaf pan is 8-by-4 inches or smaller, you will need to use two pans. Start checking for doneness after 30 minutes.

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