Category Archives: fruit

How it ends

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About a year ago, well before 7 a.m., I woke to the telltale click of the screen door being closed extremely carefully. We have a slammer of a screen that doesn’t fit its home squarely; the silent slam is a trick only the most well practiced guest can perform. I scrambled up the stairs, more curious than afraid. Half a pink salmon sat in a plastic shopping bag on the shoe bench just inside the door, right next to my XtraTufs. I picked it up, knowing one of our builders, Richie, had left it there for me. His wife had planned to fish that morning, and he knew I was jealous. “Hope you can use this,” said his note. I could still feel the warmth of his skin on the handles of the bag.

At the time, I was testing recipes for A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories. Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens and I been tinkering with the smoked salmon recipe, and as I tested and retested, I relied on the builders to be occasional judges—of that salmon, and of the French-style apple cake, and of the braised pork shoulder I served to six or seven of the guys in that last week of remodeling. That final meal was a sort of congratulatory lunch that doubled, for me, as a way of testing a huge handful of recipes in one day and serving the food to a crowd piping hot at midday so it didn’t sag on the counter until dinnertime.

I’m not sure they realized then how closely I watched their faces as they ate, and how much I appreciated that salmon, and another guy’s homemade bacon, and that they somehow kept the water on at all the right times as they intentionally shattered and rebuilt the basement and all of its associated plumbing.

banana bread sliced

My hope, at the beginning, was to leave the builder a book and some banana bread as thanks. When the bananas had wilted sufficiently on the counter, I tweaked the book’s zucchini bread recipe to incorporate them. The zucchini bread, as it stands, is perfect. (I can brag like that because it’s not my own recipe: It’s perfect, people.) I like it for its spice, and for its fine texture, and for the fact that it uses olive oil, so you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften. But if you’re going to make a perfect banana bread out of a recipe for perfect zucchini bread, a few things about it need to change—the substitution of bananas for zucchini, for example. I gave it a bit more backbone with bread flour, omitted the lemon zest, and tinkered with the top. Ultimately, though, it’s just the same bread, all dressed up for fall. (Honestly, with the exception of my cousin’s killer homemade sugar pumpkin pie, I’ll take a pumpkin-seeded banana bread over pumpkin pie any day.)

It baked up big and beautiful, just like it does at The Whale Wins, so that when you cut it into slabs, it eats more like cake than like a breakfast bread. I carefully sliced part of it for us to keep for snacking, and wrapped the rest in foil for the contractor.

signed book 2

When I signed the book for the contractor to pick up and share with Richie, I suddenly felt like the process of writing this particular book came full circle. Perhaps strangely, it’s often not the book’s release or its appearance on store shelves that makes me feel like a project has grown proper wings. For me, a book’s real launch happens when I thank the people who helped me get ‘er done. When I mail a huge stack of books media rate to the book’s recipe testers, and send copies to my siblings, and bring what I’m starting to call The Big Blue to the coffee shop that offered me a seat for at least three quarters of the project’s writing. The book’s circle will close next week in New York, when I’ll give my last book to a tester coming to the event there on Monday night, and I’ll hug her in person and say thanks for the invisible hours she put into it, too. Only then, to me, will the book be finished.

Yesterday morning, as I twisted the doorknob to put the book and the bread on the bench on the porch, my husband announced that our cantankerous gas stove had shot up a plume of blue large enough to trigger the gates on the emergency stove-buying portion of our bank account. We’ll be getting a new unit (suggestions welcome!), which means we’ll have to saw away the two-inch granite apron securing the existing stove in place, which means we’ll need to call our contractor. I put the banana bread on the dining room table.

“Maybe I’ll just leave him the book,” I told Jim. “Otherwise it would be bribery, right?”

No, it was most certainly not appropriate to leave the contractor a book and banana bread before calling him in again. And, well, clearly I’ll need strength for stove shopping.

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Pumpkin-Seeded Banana Bread (PDF)

In the world of zucchini breads, Renee Erickson’s rules all. This banana bread, made by adapting the zucchini bread from The Whale Wins that appears in A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, has the same sweet, spiced background that makes the zucchini bread so addictive—plus a crunchy layer of shelled pumpkin seeds that, for me, act as a harbinger of deep fall. Note that at The Whale Wins, the zucchini bread is pan-roasted in butter and served with crème fraîche and sea salt. That’s not going to hurt this banana bread, either.

Use a good extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe; you’ll taste it in the final product.

Active time: 30 minutes
Makes one 9- by 5-inch loaf

Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
2 cups (about 256 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 very ripe bananas
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt, and set aside.

In another bowl, mash the bananas with a large fork until only pea-sized pieces of fruit remain. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla. Add the olive oil in three stages, whisking it in until completely incorporated each time.

Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no white spots remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly first with the demerara sugar, then with the pumpkin seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted between seeds in the center of the loaf comes out clean. (It should rise right to the top of the pan.)

Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before cutting into fat slabs.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, Cakes, fruit, recipe

When May Flowers

©LFerroni-RhubarbJam
Photo by Lara Ferroni

This, people, will be a tumultuous spring. I can feel it. My arugula is flowering faster than I can eat it. The rhubarb in my garden is higher than it should be for the last day in April, and tomorrow we’re slated to see final plans for our big basement remodeling project. In the meantime, between book edits and my quest to find the perfect antique cast iron utility sink, there will be jam–simple, oven-roasted jam. I’ll have it on hand for the mornings the construction crews shut the water off on accident, and as a snack for stoppers by, and, of course, at a few upcoming book signings. Come say hello.

May 1: Orca Books, Olympia, WA, 3 p.m.
May 4: Costco, Kirkland, WA, 1 – 3 p.m.
May 5: Molbak’s, Woodinville, WA, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
May 11: Costco, Aurora Village location, Seattle, WA, 1 – 3 p.m.

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Caramelized Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (PDF)
Here’s a jam that takes instant gratification into account. Start with a trip to the farmers’ market. Buy a flat of strawberries. Eat a pint right there in the sun, chatting with friends, and down another pint on the way home — if you’re on a bike, congratulations. (You must be a Seattleite.) Now you have four pints left, which you’ll roast in the oven with bits of fresh rhubarb until they’ve both caramelized into a deep, brownish burgundy. It’s easier than regular jam because there’s no stirring involved, but the result, with its sweet, deep flavor, is even more toast-worthy.

4 pints small, ripe strawberries, hulled
1/2 pound rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

Makes: 1 pint

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice in a large roasting pan. Mash about 25 times with a potato masher, until all the large chunks of fruit are gone, then roast for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring once halfway through, or until the fruit has melted into a jam and no liquid runs down the pan when you tip it sideways.
3. Store the jam in small jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Excerpted from Dishing Up Washington by Jess Thomson with permission from Storey Publishing.

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Filed under Dishing Up Washington, fruit, gluten-free, recipe

A jam for jamming

Rhubarb Jam

It would be lovely, I suppose, if every stalk of rhubarb shot up clean bubble gum pink throughout, and if it stirred up into a jam the color of nail polish, and if (while we’re dreaming) it could in no way, in any quantity, poison anyone. The rhubarb I buy at the store is like this, but the stuff in our backyard—rhubarb reliably misshapen, strangely sized, and half-buried in dead leaves—is not really all that pretty.

This year, I hacked it all into pieces any which way, piled it into a roasting pan with a cup of sugar and a cinnamon stick, and roasted it for almost two hours, until the foam had subsided and a thick, gooey jam had begun to stick to the sides of the metal.

My rhubarb jam wasn’t even close to pink, and somehow, this feels like a shortcoming. But while it roasted, I put my kid down for a nap, tagged up on a deadline, made myself coffee, answered email, and made dinner. Oh, I brought the mail in, too. I was jamming, people, in more ways than one. And right now, balancing a book release and a new lupus treatment and a traveling husband and the kind of sunny Seattle weather that makes me want to lie prostrate in the back yard, I can’t think of anything more beautiful than a jam that doesn’t require actual attention.

This is one of those. There’s chopping and mashing and scooping and smashing, but you won’t need an ounce of glamour to make it. You don’t need a recipe, even-just four pounds of rhubarb, a cup of sugar, a cinnamon stick, and a bit shy of 2 hours at 400 degrees, stirring every so often. Call it jam, or compote, or stuff, even. It doesn’t matter what you call it. I pile the roasted rhubarb stuff on yogurt, and eat it after Graham goes to bed, when the house is silent, and I want the last part of the day to sweeten anything sourish that’s happened during the daylight hours.

This stuff sweetens life just enough.

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Filed under Breakfast, fruit, gluten-free, Pike Place Market Recipes

Spiders

Apricot Yogurt Cake

Yesterday morning, I saw a teensy orange spider crawling up an invisible ladder through the air, speeding toward the edge of my kitchen counter. Just when he reached the underneath corner, he fell down about four inches and bounced a little, right in midair. He climbed again, and dropped again, over and over. He tumbled enough times that I found myself staring at him, coffee cup caught halfway to my lips, saying, “Buddy, I get it. I’m right there with you.” I laughed a little. Then I caught myself having a heart-to heart with a spider, so I drank my coffee.

It’s been a fall-and-climb-back-up-again kind of time around here. It’s been shingles and coughs and sad family times, mixed with summer and Not Summer and snails eating my strawberries. The spider reminded me that we’re not always climbing up. We have to fall sometimes. That’s nature. But a few hours after my wildlife encounter, my sketchy biology knowledge came screaming in, and I realized Mr. Spider had been building a web. I don’t typically take my life lessons from eight-legged creatures, but in my desperate attempt to make sense of his daily endeavors, it occurred to me that maybe I should think of life as more of a web than a one-way trajectory. We build, then we fall, and someday, the pattern supports us when we need it.

That cake up there has had some up and down days, too. First, it was an apricot upside-down cake, still made with yogurt, but crowned with a swath of fire. It looked nice enough, until we ate it, and discovered that with apricots just on the top, there wasn’t nearly enough fruit flavor for the thickness of the cake itself. So I toyed with it, and gently folded the apricots right into the batter—and used more of them. I guess in name, the dessert was demoted from upside-down cake, which sounds somehow special, to just cake with fruit (not to be confused with fruitcake). So it’s no wonder it didn’t look quite as spiffy. In fact, when it came out of the oven, all puffed up about the apricot slices being inside, I could see it sort of pouting, despite the extra sparkle I put on top. It’s hard to tell a cake it was never meant to be prom queen.

But she is what she is. This is not a cake that struts across the table. And as I learned, this is not a birthday cake. (Although I should have known better, I’d hoped to put fancy candles in it for my sister’s birthday, but when it came out of the oven, I knew it wouldn’t be right.) This is the cake that stands quietly in the corner while the pretty girls get picked, until someone realizes that under humble crumb and awkward flecks of orange, there’s a bite that pits the tang of the season’s first apricots and tart plain yogurt against the sweetness of sugar in just the right way. This is the cake that eats just as well after two days as it did after two hours—whether you’re up or down or somewhere in between. It’s made with whole-wheat pastry flour, but it’s not dry or too, uh, healthy tasting. You could use regular all-purpose flour, of course. Either way, she’s the kind of cake you make when other things just aren’t going all that well, because you know she’ll be there for you.

The next time I feel like I’m on the downside of web building, I’ll make it again—maybe with raspberries, or blueberries, or plums. I’ll spoon a mascarpone whipped cream on top, because I’ll remember it, next time. Then I’ll sit down with a fork, and a cup of coffee, and watch for spiders.

But for now, I’m up, because an advance copy of my first cookbook just arrived on my doorstep. And the cover is puffy, people.

Apricot Yogurt Cake (PDF)

Topped with a flurry of turbinado sugar, this cake has a bit of a crunchy top, like a muffin—the perfect counterpoint to its moist, tender texture. The apricots make it rather delicate, so be gentle as you flip it out of the pan (or scoop the slices right out when the cake is still hot). This cake would love a scoop of mascarpone cheese-spiked whipped cream.

Active time: 15 minutes
Makes one 8-inch cake

Butter and flour for the pan
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 medium firm-ripe apricots, pitted and cut into 8 slices each
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with the butter and coat with a thin layer of flour. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until blended. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla, then stir it into the egg mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, and fold them in until all the flour has been incorporated. Gently fold in the fruit.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and pat down any wayward apricots. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar in an even layer over the batter. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes on the middle rack, or until the cake is puffed, golden, and beginning to brown at the edges. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter, and serve warm.

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Filed under Cakes, fruit, recipe

Tension, and a Great Gatsby moment

Blueberry-Lemon Graham Bread 3

(Listen to the radio version of this piece here.)

There are 22 different kinds of flour in my back pantry. The space itself is awkward; it’s a repurposed linen closet next to my bathroom with a latch that doesn’t click unless you body-slam the door. Whoever opens the thing wages serious battle with the hooks that double as our coat closet. But when it comes to the flours themselves, awkward is an understatement; my flours fit into that pantry more poorly than I fit in during fourth grade (which is to say, not at all).

On the top shelf, which is reserved for sparkling water, giant jugs of vinegar, coffee, extra olive oil, and assundry rarely-used Asian groceries, there is currently one bag of bread flour and an almost-full bag of whole wheat pastry flour. (I’m storing the latter on its head, because the bottom ripped open the last time it fell out of the cabinet upon opening and snowed its ingredients down the return air vent.)

On the middle shelf, where I keep savory pantry essentials—rices, pastas, beans, and grains—there’s a four-year-old bag of chestnut flour I need to throw away, some tapioca flour, and the dried chickpeas I used to grind into a flour last week.

But the bottom shelf is the actual flour shelf. The flours I can tell you I have off the top of my head, in no particular order, are quinoa, teff, almond, whole wheat, rice, sweet rice, dark rye, corn, millet, graham, and sorghum.

Then there are the flours I actually keep in my kitchen. There’s a green bucket in the corner, meant for mixing cement, that’s filled with cake flour—a remnant of the weeks spent writing a cookbook about doughnuts. Then there are two crocks of flour, my all-stars, that I keep regularly on my counter—one is all-purpose, and one is whole-wheat pastry flour. (I use the latter because it has less gluten than regular whole-wheat flour, so baked goods don’t end up heavy.)

I’m not telling you this because I think you should buy more flour. I’m telling you because what you don’t see, reading this blog or using my recipes, is the tension between the things I love about my job and the things that make me insane. What you don’t see is that there is almost more square footage in my little house devoted to flour than there is to clothing. What you don’t see is me, in my pajamas, churning out dozens of whole-grain holiday cookies in mid-June, when I should be eating strawberries. What you don’t see is me trying to populate my blog with interesting flour recipes so that when said cookie recipes come out in edibleSEATTLE in November, people will have something to do with their leftover graham flour. What you don’t see is that every time I give you a recipe for, say, buttermilk-brown sugar buckwheat muffins, I’ve tried the recipe and toyed with it, resulting in a mountain of excess I’m rather embarrassed to talk about. I own 22 different flours. Who needs 22 kinds of flour? Wouldn’t it be better if I used the same darn flour for everything?

Well, no. At least, I don’t think so. As I see it, my role as a recipe developer is to bear the burden—oh lordy, the burden—of a cabinet that looks like 1950s London. I’ll do the experimenting here, in my house, so that you can, say, buy a bag of graham flour for a lemon-spiked blueberry bread, knowing that you’ll use at least half of it, and see how straight graham flour bakes up bigger than regular whole wheat flour, and that later, I’ll come up with something that helps you use the rest. Or so you can make those muffins, and not feel like using buckwheat is just a bit of a lark. Or so you can fry a batch of doughnuts that will make your arteries curl, and bet that when that doughnut book comes out, I’ll be giving you recipes for the whole-grain baked versions I couldn’t put in the book.

I love exposing people to new foods that could make them more excited about cooking and eating and that might, in a perfect world, make them a little healthier. I like providing inspiration for celebration, and for occasional indulgence, and for gatherings where one person looks another person in the eye and learns something new about them. I like the rhythm of my day-to-day, that ever changing, syncopated dance that allows me to blend food and life together in new measures each hour, all while wearing pajamas. This is my work.

But I really hate that cabinet.

So yes, sometimes my work gets in the way of my ideal values, which include a healthy lifestyle and a dose of minimalism and a world of easy-to-close pantry doors (although you certainly wouldn’t know it to stand in my kitchen). What I do for a living gets in the way of how I want to live. But you know that little ditty about not always getting what you want? In real life, it’s true. I want to help people eat healthier, but I’ll soon be the author of a doughnut cookbook. Hypocritical? Definitely. The right business decision for me? Probably.

So I have a new mantra, because life isn’t perfect: You can’t always get what you want, but you can always try. I can’t always write recipes that make people healthier (see here), but I can write some. I can’t depend on an organized cabinet, but I can hold a little flour rodeo once a year and make a good, honest effort at wrangling those little bags. And as I move along this path, I can decide which turns to take—which, today, means fewer refined products and a little more nutrition. Which, in turn, will probably mean more little bags of flour.

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Blueberry-Lemon Graham Bread

Blueberry-Lemon Graham Bread (PDF)
Recipe by Laura Russell

Graham flour and local honey give this classic breakfast bread a modern twist. Without any white flour or refined sugar, this bread takes a step in a healthy direction in hopes of making you feel a little bit better about reaching for that inevitable second slice.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: One 8-inch loaf cake

2 cups graham flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup local honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of one large lemon
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8” by 4 1/2” loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and honey together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, and mix on medium high speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk, vanilla, and lemon zest, and mix on medium speed until combined. Add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined. Gently fold in the blueberries by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes on the middle rack, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, covering the bread with foil if it begins to brown too quickly. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, fruit, grains, radio, recipe

A good day for sunburn

View from poma atop China Bowl

I like the way the sun warms my back when I’m wearing black, and the way it shines on everyone the same way, blind to color and wealth and happiness. I like the way it glints off the water sinking deep into the hearts of the new camellia flowers in my front yard. I like the way it dries out the cover on my gas grill, after I forgot to replace it, now almost two weeks ago.

But when I’m roughly 11,000 feet closer to the sun than usual—say, sitting on a chairlift when said chairlift breaks down—I don’t particularly like the way the sun fries my face. Granted, there are worse things than spending an hour “stuck” in the Colorado mountains on a sunny day; I only really got cold at the end. And considering that thirty years’ skiing had never before offered me a similar situation, I’d venture to call myself lucky. Okay, so I didn’t get much skiing in that day. And I have a pretty wicked sunburn, for March, with lines across my face that will probably look funny until May. But I didn’t loose any appendages; I didn’t even get all that cranky.

I did, however, guzzle a hot chocolate, take two runs, then head for the smokehouse at Wildwood, where a pulled pork sandwich helped me forgive all. We sat with that big burning beast to our backs, Lauren and I, trying to dip waffle-cut fries into ketchup faster than the chilly hilltop breeze could whip their heat away. We pointed out barbecue sauce when we inadvertently smeared it across our faces. Then we skied, and I taught Lauren to tuck, and we skied faster. We checked in on our children from the chairlift, feeling simultaneously freed and tethered, like all mothers must.

A well-accessorized tot

So I’m blaming the chairlift for my sunburn, but both cheeks are peeling, and the sun was really only blasting me from one side that morning. The burn is from the skiing and the pork sandwich and the margaritas on the deck at the Minturn Saloon and the laughing and the tot wrangling and yes, quite possibly, from the hour on the chairlift as well. The whole is always more than the sum of its parts.

That night, cheeks burning, we went to Kelly Liken. It’s the first time in years (is that possible?) that I’ve been to a new-to-me restaurant with absolutely no itinerary besides enjoying myself. We laughed because both our children had gone to bed early without a fuss. We laughed when we ran into former private chef clients of mine, and when they treated us to glamorous cocktails, and when the server wholeheartedly congratulated our husbands on their 8 years of marriage because somewhere along the line, “Jess and Jim’s” anniversary had been translated to “Jeff and Jim’s.” We laughed when we twisted shaved roasted lamb leg up into fantasy bites with nettles and ramps and fried (what was it, that potatoey croquette thing?), and when we nibbled meat off a rack off rabbit, like a carnivorous version of Tom Hanks’s baby corn scene in Big. We laughed at how I’d pressed frozen waffles to my face in an attempt to ice it down, and at how the spun sugar topping the sticky bun dessert poked into the soft fleshy insides of our cheeks as we chewed it. Then we might have laughed some more, but I don’t really remember.

Then we came home. We came home, and there was a list fifteen miles long, with things like taxes and laundry and deadlines and planting the dahlia bulbs that have been lingering in the backyard for more than a week, looking sad and naked. I’ll start testing recipes again next week, I thought. When I’m rested, and my throat stops hurting.

Then I thought a little harder. I certainly don’t want to write a cookbook that only has recipes that you want to make when you’re 100%. I know as well as anyone that cooking can be lovely, but it also takes some effort, and some days you just don’t have as much to give. Still, after almost a week on the road, I wanted something hearty, something that felt complete. I patted a simple rosemary crust onto a gorgeous pork loin, and popped it into a nice, hot oven. While the panko tanned, I mixed potatoes with thyme and garlic, and drizzled asparagus with olive oil, and slid them in next to the pork. In a food processor, I whirled tart red plums (out of season, I know, but the book’s due in May and summer must be present—save this recipe for summer, if you want) with a bit of garlic and rosemary and balsamic vinegar. I let it simmer down until it looked liked applesauce with lipstick on. The pork came out perfectly pink in the center, so we bathed it with that magenta-hued sauce, and felt just as happy to be home as we’d been thrilled to be on vacation.

Now that we’re back, I don’t mind the sunburn much. My skin is also red from fresh cold wind, and wine, and the blush of a jolly good time. And I’ll certainly never look at a frozen waffle the same way again.

Lauren and Jess

Rosemary Crusted Pork with Balsamic Red Plum Sauce (PDF)

No, there’s no photo, which should tell you something—although this simple pork roast is gorgeous enough for company, you can make it on the laziest of days, like when you might have strep throat, and your face is peeling from too much sun, and your nanny is sick and you’re trying to wean your cranky tot from his pacifier and all you want to do is WHINE. (All that happiness above? That was three whole days ago.) But wait, this is about pork, right?

For a complete dinner, slick some small potatoes with olive oil and roast them right next to the pork. While the pork rests, steam a bunch of asparagus, and serve them drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the extra breadcrumbs from the pork.

Time: 30 minutes active time
Makes: 6 servings

For the pork
1 (2 1/2-pound) pork loin roast, excess fat trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the sauce
3 large firm-ripe plums (about 1 pound), halved and pitted, then chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Place the pork in a small roasting pan, fat side-up. Rub the top with about 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper together until the breadcrumbs are evenly moist. Pat the breadcrumb mixture onto the pork, coating it in an even layer on the top and sides, and slide it into the oven on the middle rack. Roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top is brown and the center of the roast measures 140° with an instant-read thermometer. (If the top begins to brown too quickly, slide a baking sheet onto the rack above the pork or cover the pork with foil.)

Meanwhile, whirl all the sauce ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

When the pork is done, let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Rewarm the plum sauce, then slice the pork into 1”-thick slabs, and serve slathered with sauce. Serve extra sauce on the side.

And a note for you skiers: For future reference, a corkscrew works to change your DIN setting.

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Filed under fruit, gluten-free, pork, recipe

A Cookbook Snapshot: Pike Place Market Recipes

Photo by Clare Barboza

Last Thursday, I caught a Keta salmon. I don’t mean I caught it, as in I put a fishing line into the ocean and it bit down something fierce. I mean a large man threw a fish at me, and it didn’t hit the floor.

I probably should start by telling you that I’m not exactly known for my hand-eye coordination. But when you step behind the counter at Pike Place Fish, the purveyor at the heart of Pike Place Market that’s world-renowned for the fishmongers’ salmon-throwing antics, there’s not all that much to learn. Not at first blush, anyway: You put an apron on. You turn one shoulder toward the fish, as if you were a batter anticipating a pitch. A guy in orange guides your hands into position, placing the back hand higher than the front hand, so that when the fish swims through the air toward you, head high, it lands between the thumb and forefinger of each of your outstretched hands. You clamp down like your life depends on it.

So that’s what I did. Only, I have to tell you, I was sort of cheating. The salmon I caught was tiny, for starters, and since it was destined for an afterlife of tourist abuse, it didn’t matter if my fingers bruised its delicate flesh. The guys in orange, though? They’re not cheating. They catch those fish like they’re catching newborn humans, tender and gentle. I don’t know about you, but the difficulty seems to me like it might stretch beyond the coordination issue. I can’t imagine wrapping my brain around the combination of yelling at the top of my lungs and treating something with such intimate care.

Catching a fish at Pike Place Fish

Thursday was a good day. I also took my first Savor Seattle tour of Pike Place Market, and learned that initially, when MarketSpice (the market’s oldest vendor) opened, its tea was technically illegal because the cinnamon oil used to flavor it was banned; it’s too dangerous to touch in its purest form. I made a cake using milk spiked with the tea, and topped it with an orange tea glaze, so the whole cake smacked of orange, clove, and cinnamon. I bought a smoked ham hock from Bavarian Meats and braised it into an ever so gently smoky German split pea soup over the weekend. I bought the biggest white beans I’ve ever cooked, from The Spanish Table, to stir into an unusual but refreshingly simple Spanish paella. Then I tied my hands behind my back, because spring’s bounty is still coming.

This, friends, is what writing a cookbook looks like. It’s a life I could get used to: peruse one of the world’s best markets for food I’m crazy about, take it home, and make it more delicious. Occasionally, I get to gussy up my favorite things for a quick modeling stint (Clare Barboza is the book’s fabulous photographer), and things start to look more real.

"Public Market," by Kevin Belford

Only, like anything, it takes work. Today, I walked into a coffee shop, feeling overwhelmed by the whole wheat cinnamon pull-apart bread I’m not quite satisfied with, and by the organizational task ahead of me. I was stalling. The photo above, part of an exhibit at Fresh Flours by Kevin Belford, loomed over the only empty chair. Really?, I thought. You mock me so.

I love how the book is divided by provenance—so the chapters group recipes based on ingredients that come from Puget Sound, for example, or the mountains, or Pike Place Market’s specialty shops. But from a writers’ perspective, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain the balance intrinsic to a book with a more traditional course-by-course layout. I’m trying to decide what tips to throw into the book’s introduction, which purveyors to interview for little sidebars, and how to capture the magic of the market in relatively few words. And as I get closer and closer to its end (the book is due May 15th), the number of recipes left to test for the book dwindles, and I start getting weepy about the recipes I might have to leave behind, like a recipe for sweet-hot mango pickles that I make again and again because I simply can’t get enough. (That chapter’s full, my brain says.) There’s work to do, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not dragging my feet because I don’t want to do it. I’m procrastinating because I don’t want it to end.

But seriously. The world is in this state, and I walk out of my house thinking Oh God, how did I write 80% of a book with only two chicken recipes? Buck up, Jess. You’ve got a book to finish, because (shhh) there’s another one coming.

Pike Place Market Recipes is going to be gorgeous. It’s going to be delicious. It will taste like blackened salmon sandwiches and chickpea and chorizo stew and French-style apple custard cake. (Not all at once, of course.) It will smell like a good story, and fresh-baked sour cherry-oatmeal cookies with huge chocolate chunks.

And with any luck, it won’t bruise too easily. I’ll teach you how to catch it.

Sweet-Hot Mango Pickles (PDF)
Here’s an unusual snack, similar to the cucumber chips I posted before, but sweeter – and for Seattleites, a needed burst of sunshine. For another variation, try grating the mango in a food processor instead of cutting it into spears, soaking it in the marinade, then draining it and serving it as a sweet-and-sour slaw, over salmon tacos or grilled chicken.

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

2 large almost-ripe mangos, peeled and sliced into 1/2” spears
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

Combine all ingredients in a bowl just big enough to hold all the mangoes. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes for flavors to blend, stirring occasionally, then serve.

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Filed under appetizers, fruit, gluten-free, Modern, recipes, snack, vegetables

A ten-minute cake

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

The story that accompanies this cake is extremely short: I’m on an insane dose of steroids. Steroids make a person hungry. They make me crave, in particular, anything remotely sweet. (Steroids also make you believe you’re invincible, which is why I reorganized the living room and four bookshelves this weekend.)

I’ve made it twice now, in three days. It’s the love child of banana bread and the simplest vanilla cake, just sturdy enough to carry across the living room in the palm of your hand, if you’re into that sort of thing, but sweet enough to dependably call a dessert.

The first time, I noticed that it only took me about ten minutes to scrape together. The second time, it took 8, but then I realized I’d already heated the oven and the milk and eggs were out on the counter. That adds a portion of a minute, easily.

So it might take you eleven minutes. Twelve, if you’re a deliberate masher or if you have an unreasonably large kitchen.

For the record, the kind of steroids I’m on do not make one a better athlete. Unless eating cake is a sport. In that case, sign me up.

Buttermilk Banana Cake whole

Ten-Minute Buttermilk Banana Cake (PDF)

Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate. Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, fruit, recipe

Rhubarbsauce

Rhubarbsauce 4

Rhubarb baffles me every spring. I can’t help it. Those little wrinkly leaf heads start creeping up out of the ground, looking a crowd of vegetal aliens, and I always doubt that they’ll grow into something with gorgeous fuchsia stalks and big, elephant-ear leaves. It just doesn’t seem possible.

Lucky for rhubarb (and late bloomers like me, I guess), time unfurls and beautifies things in a way no chemical can. In my garden, I wait to snap stalks out of the ground until the elegant, baffley leaves are totally splayed out, because that’s what I’d want someone to do if they were picking me. Time’s not always an enemy.

The thing about rhubarb is that while it always tastes beautiful – bright and sunny and tart in all the right ways – it doesn’t always look so great when it’s cooked. Have you noticed? In pies and tarts, it’s usually all covered up, because when you heat it, the fibers separate into unattractive little shards, and it turns a tawny reddish color that’s awfully disappointing after the shocking vibrancy of the fresh stuff. You might say this here is a food with a complexion problem.

The other day, I decided to give it a little makeover. I started by chopping about a pound of rhubarb, then melted it in a pot with Pink Lady apples and a touch of cranberry juice, for a little extra color. The pieces melted into a chunky sauce that tasted terrific, with just the right amount of sweetness, but was, shall we say, artistically challenged. So I whirred it up. Out came something much more elegant – a silky-smooth, pretty pink sauce with the punch of rhubarb but none of its unfortunate textural issues.

Rhubarbsauce 1

The problem is, no matter what you do to the stuff, the word rhubarb itself is still sort of ugly. It sounds blobby, like it belongs in the same family as words like grub, or blotter, and maybe bulbous. No matter how gorgeous, it would be hard to convince me that applesauce with bulbous tastes good.

Rhubarbsauce. Now why didn’t I think of that sooner? It sounds much more delicious.

Rhubarbsauce on pancakes

Apple Rhubarbsauce (PDF)

Tainted with cranberry juice and just the right amount of sugar, this rhubarb-rich applesauce is great stirred into yogurt, slathered on pancakes, spooned warm over ice cream, or eaten straight from the jar.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: About 1 1/2 pints

1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
1 pound Pink Lady apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then cook over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and let cool, then puree in a blender. Serve hot or cold.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fruit, gluten-free, recipe

A cure for cooktongue

Pear Cream Cake 1

I love Thanksgiving, when it’s in the kitchen, because it condenses all the ups and downs of cooking into just a few short hours. There’s the thrill of a big, brown bird, so heavy it takes two to baste. The disappointment of bland pureed meat from a too-boring pumpkin. The challenge of making whipped cream biscuits early in the morning with two crying babies, even when there are four hands. The carrots that sagged when I orphaned them on the stove for just a minute too long.

Gosh, that’s looking an awful lot like a meal I didn’t love.

I did, though. I loved it. It just took me three days.

Maybe I had a case of cooktongue. You know, cooktongue: the inevitable disease one acquires when cooking for too many people for too long. Serious side effects include food tasting terrible no matter the seasoning, boredom with dishes that usually excite, and difficulty chewing.

Our guests said dinner was good, but I thought they were just being nice. On Thursday, the only flavor I got was sawdust, ground to different consistencies and scattered around my plate. Before the pies came out, we wrapped a pretty platter of food up for E, who didn’t arrive until Friday. I was a bit wistful, shuffling it into the depths of the fridge, half hoping it would be forgotten. I hadn’t noticed the layers three different types of sausage created in the cornbread stuffing, or the hard cider in my sister’s first gravy, or the way a real, good ham coats the mouth with velvet.

Howes in the Hallway

What I did taste, while my cousin and my sister and I buzzed about on Thanksgiving day, was my family. I felt a laugh roll down my tongue and out into the air when I realized, after accusing them of gathering in the kitchen like a pack of rabid dogs, that a few of my female relatives had moved their semi-private conversation to the landing immediately outside the bathroom. (This is my family.)

Graham's Family Tree

I tasted Hong Kong, when my uncle described his meals at home there, and the sweet-and-sour fried eggplant he had at a guest house outside Beijing. I tasted the sweet potatoes, before feeding them to Graham, bourbon and all. I tasted the cold, wet air, as my cousin and I darted out the door for a massage, laughing, both of us having just found our children spots on the family baby-go-round. I tasted something between joy and happiness, peppered with satisfaction, each time a someone put a new handprint on Graham’s family tree. (Next, we’ll ask friends to add handprints in a different color.) And I tasted a little regret, for having committed to hosting Thanksgiving last year, when I didn’t know how I’d be feeling this year.

But for the most part, no, I did not taste the food in front of me.

Then Sunday afternoon, I woke up from a good, long nap, completely healed. E never got to her Thanksgiving plate, and when dinner rolled around, I put the entire thing in our new microwave. (We had a microwave before, but it lived, usually unplugged, in the basement. It’s a miracle, this thing, and much more useful living within arm’s reach of the refrigerator. Welcome to 1967, Jess.)

The kitchen itself is not anywhere close to healed, however. This morning, a glance up at the pot rack revealed my blue saucepan – the one we used to make a base for Friday’s turkey pot pie – clean inside but still dripping with gravy outside. There are little piles of flour in every countertop corner. Stray sprigs of thyme keep sticking to my socks. And inside the refrigerator – a fridge, I might add, that now has a broken drawer, a door handle that continually pops off, and a complaining freezer compressor – all balance has been erased.

It’s not that we have so much food left over – a roasting pan-sized pot pie does miracles for leftovers. (I insist you try it with bacon and Brussels sprouts next time. Really.)

It’s the dairy. It’s disturbing our refrigerator’s chi. At last count, I saw two quarts of heavy cream, one quart of half and half, one pint of half and half, a half gallon of eggnog, 2% milk, whole milk, whipped cream, and two half-used big containers of sour cream. That’s a lot of halves. In the produce department, we have half a head of kale, half a bag of cranberries, and a few onions. That’s it.

I have nothing against cream. (Clearly. If you’ve been here before, you know that.) I’m just afraid of wasting it.

So yesterday, at the risk of reinstating what my friend Kathy calls the Thanksgiving butter coma, I decided to make a cream cake.

I’d also filled a big bowl with crisp, fat red pears for the week. They’re just now finger-dentable. I thought of making pear clafoutis, but wanted something sliceable – something creamy and eggy, but not so dangerously (read: endlessly) spoonable. Something for snacking, but not a cake with bonafide crumb.

Pears for cream cake in pan

I cut the pears thin (no peeling required) and pinwheeled them into a springform pan. (Don’t panic. It turns out the pinwheel doesn’t matter, because the batter covers the pears almost entirely.) I whirled room temperature eggs and sugar together, spiked them with cream, and folded in just a bit of flour, for stability. As the cake baked it puffed – slowly at first, but eventually cracking in the center. It cooled quietly into a rich, custardy disc. Then it stood up and asked me to make another pot of coffee, STAT.

Unsugared Pear Cream Cake

Standing alone in my kitchen, forking bites in between sips, it tasted like an overgrown pear-studded crepe, caught halfway between breakfast and dessert, three-quarters of the way from cake to clafoutis.

Thank you, family, for coming. But thank you for going, too. I do believe this cooktongue thing has cleared up.

Pear Cream Cake 2

Red Pear Cream Cake (PDF)
Caught between cake and clafoutis, this rich, custardy dessert is actually best for breakfast. Use pears that are just ripe enough to dent with your fingers near the top.

TIME: 20 minutes prep time
MAKES: 8 servings (or 2, if you’re me)

Butter, for greasing pan
2 large red pears (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and sliced 1/4” thick (no need to peel)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting), optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Use the butter to generously grease a 9” springform pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, and arrange the pears on the bottom of the pan, overlaying them or stacking them so they’re in a roughly even layer.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until blended on medium speed. Add the sugar in a slow, steady stream and mix until light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cream and vanilla, and mix again for 30 seconds or so. Sprinkle the dry ingredients on top, and mix by hand until just blended – the batter will be thinner than regular cake batter, and may have a few small lumps in it still.

Pour the batter over the pears, poking any stray fruit under the surface if it pops out. Bake 40 to 50 minutes on the middle rack, until set and puffed in the center and golden brown on top. (If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, place a baking sheet on a rack immediately above the cake for the remainder of the baking time.)

Let cool 10 minutes in the pan. Run a small knife around the edge of the cake, remove the outside ring of the springform pan, and let cool another 15 minutes or so before cutting and serving, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

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Filed under Cakes, fruit, recipe

Shhhh. (They’re vegan.)

Vegan pancakes with toppings 1

I’ve always had texture issues with banana pancakes. I like the principle. Who wouldn’t mind a bit of extra sweetness in a breakfast favorite, especially if each bite echoed a slice of banana bread? I’ve tried plopping slices into pancake batter right on the pan, the way you do with chocolate chips or blueberries, so that you get the right number of banana bursts in each bite as you work through the pancake. But unlike its flavored pancake cousins, banana pancakes have a clear downfall: sogginess. Right around each banana slice, no matter how careful I am (or even if I caramelize the bananas on the pan before adding the batter), there’s a little ring of gooey batter, and I plum don’t like that. Pancakes can be many, many things, but they should not be soggy. So I don’t make banana pancakes.

Last weekend, I went to Boise to celebrate my birthday. My mother, who now goes by Lulu—or Woowoo, depending on how optimistic we’re feeling about our son’s future ability to articulate certain letters—whipped up a batch of pancakes with bananas right in the batter. These were vegan pancakes, made for a brunch with a vegan and someone allergic to eggs on the guest list.

Now, I’m about as open to eating vegan as I am to not eating at all, so I’ll admit I really had no intention of eating them. Vegan foods are for other people, I usually think. They’ll be sandy or chalky or otherwise culinarily handicapped. And there was that throwinginness to my mother’s body language when she made them; that always makes me uneasy. You’ve probably seen it before, in someone you know who is completely incapable of measuring: There’s a cereal spoon in each of four different bags of flour, and a day-old half banana sitting on the counter, and a hand dipped straight into the sugar dish. It’s how I like cooking best, honestly, but since I have very little experience with vegan food, and I know my mother doesn’t have much either, I got nervous. Blind-mixing pancake batter is one thing when you can rely on an egg to lift it up and a block of butter for flavor, but I don’t exactly think of soymilk as one of those magic ingredients that makes everything work.

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with vegan food for breakfast – one bite of a Mighty O chocolate-frosted chocolate donut will tell you that. But if you’ve ever tasted through the offerings at a vegan bakery, you might have tripped over a few gritty slices of cake, and decided that there’s nothing really right with it either, if it’s not completely necessary. At least, that’s what I did. Sometime long, long ago, “vegan” settled into my vocabulary as an overgrown four-letter word.

I also thought that my general distaste for vegan baked goods was my own fault. I might as well come out with it: I have texture issues. Give me a food – any food, even one everyone else deems perfect – and chances are good that I might find something wrong with it. This time of year, for example, I live in constant fear of someone offering me the “perfect” peach. Anyone normal would die for a bite, die to swoon right into the firm-ripe flesh and watch the juices run down the hand’s creases and past the place where, years ago, we used to all wear wristwatches.

But me? I can’t do the fuzz. Just can’t get past it. I taste that bright juice, but before the flavor gets all the way to my heart, something in my brain trips over a fuzzy caterpillar, or a square of shag carpet, and I have to eat my perfect slice like an orange, before I go into convulsions because I think I’m eating caterpillars or carpet. (Tell me I’m not the only one.)

When I think about the sandy texture a lot of unfortunate vegan baked goods have, I get that same shivery reaction. So it’s not so terribly surprising, I don’t think, that last Sunday, I planned to eat bagels and cream cheese and a few slices of bacon and avoid the pancakes entirely.

The problem was that by the time my mother had blended and stirred, fiddled and fixed, burned two batches and set my husband to the task of cooking off the rest of the bowl, I’d forgotten the pancakes she was making were vegan. One accidentally found its way to my mouth. And I have news for you: that pancake didn’t taste unfortunate in any way. The baking powder made each one stand up light and fluffy, the way eggs normally do for pancakes, and the banana flavor in the background was part sweetness, part fruitiness, and all deliciousness, without any of the dreaded soggy banana rings or any sort of grittiness.

Shoot, I said. I wish I’d watched you. I need this recipe. Are you sure it’s vegan? I had visions of our friend sinking into anaphylaxis at the breakfast table.

My mother rattled off what she’d added, and like always, it was a medley.

I used half this kind of flour, and half that kind off flour, and a little of this, and a little of that. Oh, and I used a recipe, she said. She skittered around for it, finally finding it in another room, completely untouched. Here, she said. It was a recipe for 5-minute vegan pancakes, one that obviously had never made it into the kitchen. I knew I’d have to recreate her version myself.

I woke up Monday morning, on my birthday, ready for pancakes. There was no baking soda. (Who runs out of baking soda?)

This morning, armed with leavener, I tried again. I used a whole banana, for good measure, and just one kind of flour. I sweetened with maple syrup. I whizzed in the blender, adding hazelnut oil instead of my mother’s grapeseed, and poured and flipped, and realized, yet again, that there’s nothing wrong with vegan food for breakfast. I’m apparently just going to the wrong bakeries.

Being not so strictly vegan ourselves, we piled our pancakes high with Greek yogurt and nectarines, and cooked up some bacon. Nothing was missing.

Vegan pancakes plain
Lulu’s Carnivore-Friendly Vegan Banana Pancakes (PDF)

Made with soymilk, baking powder, and hazelnut oil, these little pancakes are as great as traditional pancakes – or better, with their sweet punch of maple syrup and banana. My mom, who made the first version, found her inspiration in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, and online, from a recipe for 5-minute vegan pancakes.

TIME: 15 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: 2 to 3 servings

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vanilla soymilk
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil (or other nut oil, or canola oil)
1 ripe banana
Pinch salt
Spray vegetable oil

Blend the flour, syrup, baking powder, soymilk, oil, banana, and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick or heavy cast iron pan over medium heat. When hot, spray with the vegetable oil spray, and drop batter by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto the pan. Cook for a couple minutes, until the bubbles reach the center, then flip and cook another minute or two. Serve the first pancakes hot, and repeat with the remaining batter.

Cooking vegan pancakes

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Filed under Breakfast, fruit, recipe

A cake baked all at once

Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel 3

It’s a question that keeps coming up: Who is this person in my dryer?

I don’t mean there’s actually a human being in my dryer, of course. That would be mean, and very cramped (although not impossible, if the college story my friend tells is true).

I mean that every time I take clothing out of our dryer, I have a bit of an identity crisis. There are burp cloths tangled around maternity t-shirts, tiny diaper covers Velcroed to the thick seat of my bike shorts, and bras with much more infrastructure than previously necessary. I must look like a beginning stargazer, squinting sideways, mouth agape, as I try to identify each article: Mine? Graham’s? At least Jim’s clothes are all the same. But I keep wanting to ask: Who are we now?

The process of getting our clothes clean does seem to represent motherhood perfectly, though. I can almost always start a load of laundry, but the follow-through is inevitably not so hot. I’ll shove everything in and forget to turn the machine on, or put all the wet clothes on the line to dry and forget they’re there when it starts to pour rain. Or I’ll wash and dry everything just fine, and leave it smashed in the hamper for four whole days. It’s always something.

This is my new life. It doesn’t really bother me, all this underachieving in the laundry department. I’m getting used to not ever completing a single task all at once. I wash my hair in one showering, and condition it in the next. I water one half of the plants on the back porch, and hope I can return for the other half. I start a sentence and can’t quite . . .

The thing is, I really like seeing baby clothes on the line outside. I like that I never finish an email in one go, because there’s always something I’m more compelled to do. That something is my son. It’s cheesy, but it’s true. I’m happy for the distraction.

What does bother me is how the laundry concept translates to the kitchen – or doesn’t translate, as the case may be. You can’t start cooking chicken, get busy with a baby, and just serve the chicken raw. Dinner is not usually delicious half-cooked.

Oh, that? Honey, that’s a cake. I made it just for you, only I never got around to putting the batter in the oven. Sorry the candles don’t quite stand up.

Luckily, I have enough common sense – barely – to know that starting in on a batch of homemade ravioli is a really bad idea these days, if I actually want to serve it for dinner. Ditto for anything that requires attentive browning, or baking, or even a stir-fry that requires too much chopping. Or, for that matter, anything that has to be cooked by me, as opposed to my husband, who often swoops in mid-meal when Graham gets hungry or cranky. Simply put, I have abandoned the old kitchen Jess and developed a new persona there.

The new kitchen Jess has been doing things in 5-minute chunks. I’ll marinate chicken for the grill at 9 a.m., or cook wheat berries at 10 p.m., just because I know that chances are good our kid will be asleep at 11 p.m., when I need to take them off the stove. I cook simply, relying mostly on olive oil, salt, pepper, and good basic ingredients. I rarely make more than one thing that requires more than 10 minutes of my time, and – here’s the kicker, the biggest change – I almost never add additional tasks while I’m cooking, because putting the knife down to coo at Graham is way more fun (no offense) than, say, scribbling down a recipe for this here blog between stirs. Herego, the scrumptious recipes I do want to share, like the orrecchiette I sautéed last week with Swiss chard, tomatoes, and summer squash and drizzled with a goat cheese cream, never get written down. (Okay, so that one wasn’t so simple. Delicious, though.) Like the laundry, it’s not that I mind the new program, but it does take some adjusting.

The most basic problem with the new deal in the kitchen is that I don’t always get to eat what I want to eat. I’ve been eating cherries, but with the time required to pit the things, cherry pie is definitely out. The hubby has been requesting ribs, but I’m not sure I can hack the incessant basting required of my favorite recipe. My yearly batch of raspberry jam? Yeah, right.

Last weekend, when the glossy leaves of the huckleberry bushes we encountered on a hike reminded me of the Trafton family birthday cake, I started hankering for a fat, fluffy cake with berries buried in the bottom. I didn’t have to have the exact birthday cake – my birthday’s a month away still, after all – but something similar was in order, something rich but still light, made with the blueberries rolling out of our local markets right now. I needed a ten-minute blueberry cake. I assumed it would be weeks before I could get to it.

Then my Friday afternoon plans fell through. Exhausted by a 45-minute stint as Mr. Personality at my doctor’s office, Graham started rubbing his eyes – a first for him, talent-wise, and a sign I decided I shouldn’t ignore. I tucked him into his crib, and by the time his eyes were closed for good, I’d slid a cake into the oven. It took 15 minutes, to be honest, because at the last minute I snowed it with a coconut streusel, on a whim.

Graham stayed asleep for another hour. While the cake baked, I wandered around the house, collecting the sheets I left on the line outside overnight, putting away dishes I’d meant to put away that morning, replenishing the dog’s water. . . Then I just sat at the kitchen table with a glass of water, breathing in the scent of a cake baked from start to finish without any major distractions.

It’s a new kitchen, but it feels good to know that sometimes, I can make the same things. And some day, I know, baking a cake won’t seem like a big deal at all.

Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel
Blueberry Yogurt Cake with Coconut Streusel (PDF)

Made with honey-flavored Greek yogurt (I used the “Greek Gods” brand from Seattle), this cake is a tangy, airy, crunchy-topped celebration of summer. I like it best at about 4 in the afternoon.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 9 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for streusel
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup large flake unsweetened coconut
1 cup sugar
1 cup Greek yogurt, preferably full fat and honey-flavored
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8” square (or 9” round) cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside to cool.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small mixing bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, make the streusel: stir together the remaining 1/4 cup flour, the brown sugar, and the coconut, and set aside.

In a big mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla together until blended. Add the melted butter in a slow, steady stream while whisking, then fold the dry ingredients in with a spatula until almost all the white is gone. Gently fold in the blueberries. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, smooth it flat with a small spatula, and top with the streusel.

Bake the cake on the middle rack for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cake is browned and firm in the center. Let cool 15 minutes in the pan before cutting into squares and serving.

Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel 2

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Filed under Cakes, fruit, recipe

My new favorite breakfast

blueberry pancake breakfast

My brain is whirring.

It’s not a soft whir – not the attic fan, or the neighbor’s air conditioner. More of a blender, really. A blender, switching gears from stir to liquefy. Right now, it’s making those painful thumping noise that happen when the blades choke on frozen bananas.

At least, I thought it was my brain, until I realized it’s just my laptop’s fan, twirling around on overdrive to keep up with me. WhirrrIIRRRrrr. Thank goodness I don’t have to put gas in my computer.

Life feels good. I’m busy. It’s summer, and for once, my body’s happy. I’ve been biking more than usual, on my new steed. (She has pink handlebars.) I even went running this week, which I haven’t done in years. Eighteen whole minutes.

But cooking? There just hasn’t been time. Rather, I haven’t made time. It just doesn’t feel right, puttering in a hot kitchen, then sitting down in front of the screen in my spare time, when there’s so much sun to be had.

Luckily, the sun’s never too high when I start thinking about breakfast.

My husband called these pancakes unsung comfort food.

He was right.

It’s something about the way the berries burst, maybe, when I get a good blueful bite, back between my molars. Or the way I carry the blueberries home from the market, balancing them at the top of my market bag, right under my armpit, but not too close – so they don’t get squashed, and so I can eat them without actually opening the bag. Or maybe they’re so good because I made them with the berries I’d smuggled into the freezer for winter muffins – and took out again, the very next morning, because we’d already finished the basket I’d left on the counter.

thawing blueberries

It was Jim’s idea, after all, to add the buttermilk. I’d decided to substitute Greek yogurt for the milk, and he remembered the baby buttermilk box in the back of the fridge. We added both, and like we suspected, the pancakes were good and tart – almost like sourdough pancakes, only you don’t have to feed your yogurt containers to keep them alive.

I know you’ll like them. You probably won’t notice the whole wheat in this version, but I won’t take the heat if someone else does.

Serve them with good maple syrup, or for kicks, layered with more Greek yogurt and the very best homemade jam.

That’s what we did, with the raspberry jam I made with some friends a few weeks ago. They preoccupied me just long enough to stop the whirring.

Shortstack

Tangy Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes (PDF)
Like the Whole-Grain Pancakes from The Gourmet Cookbook that they’re loosely based on, these blueberry stacks say whole wheat without the heavy. But these get their fluff from buttermilk and Greek yogurt, rather than whipped egg whites, which means great sour flavor. (And honestly. Who wants to whip egg whites before breakfast?) I use butter instead of oil, because I like the flavor better, but canola gets the job done, too.

TIME: 30 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: 4 hearty servings

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing skillet
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 (6-ounce) container fat-free Greek yogurt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Whisk the first seven ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Combine the next five ingredients in another bowl, and whisk until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until blended.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, run a chunk of butter over the skillet to grease it. Drop the batter onto the skillet (by 1/4 cupfuls for larger pancakes, or heaping tablespoons for little pancakes), and dot the surface of each pancake with blueberries. (If the batter seems too thick to spread out on the pan, you can stir in a bit of milk.)

Pancakes on the skillet

Cook for a minute or two, until the undersides of the pancakes are browned. Flip pancakes carefully, cook another minute or two. Repeat with remaining butter and batter and blueberries, serving the pancakes right when they come off the skillet.

they're this good

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Filed under Breakfast, farmer's market, fruit, recipe

Slim Pickin’

cherries to taste

7:45 a.m.

I fuel up at Le Panier in downtown Seattle. I’ve had breakfast already, but it’s going to be 90 degrees in Wenatchee, so I down a flaky croissant, in case the day turns into eight hours of volunteer labor. Andrew, who must be tall enough to harvest cherries without a ladder, picks me up in his Prius wearing a lovely pressed shirt, slacks, and trendy lace-up leather shoes. He has the self-assured smile of a very successful car salesman. Back home, I’d been so sure sturdy sneakers and an old t-shirt were appropriate, but now, I’m not so certain. Thank goodness I remembered my cherry-print bobby socks. Andrew notices them immediately.

In high school soccer, I was a forward. I had neither the speed and endurance required of a midfielder, nor the ball skills required near the goal. I thought it was a pretty good gig, hanging out up past midfield, waiting for someone to pass me the ball so that I could score and dance around like I’d actually accomplished something. That is, until one girl started screaming “CHERRY PICKER” every time I scored. That made it less fun.

When Andrew, the Washington State Fruit Commission’s resident cherry expert, said he’d take me cherry picking at high season, I jumped. I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be good at the real thing, especially if I didn’t actually have to grow the cherries myself. And it would be awfully nice if no one hollered at me.

Continue reading Slim Pickin’ at Leite’s Culinaria. . .

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Filed under commentary, Et cetera, fruit

A Two-Dog Pie

Sour Cherry-Rhubarb Pie

I baked my little heart out today.

First it was blueberry muffins, to fuel a morning at Workimer, and the most absurdly easy macaroons. Then banana bread, for the freezer. (We have eight friends coming next week.) Then sour cherry pie, my first with real pie cherries.

pitting sour cherries

I’d never actually tried sour cherries, come to think of it. Smaller and softer, they’re so much more feminine than a Bing. At first, they taste like cherries in a bitchy mood, but after I got used to their punch, I decided I love them. And indeed, when I broke into them with my fingernails, pitting them all by hand without the use of a knife or a pitter, I felt a little more feminine myself. My fingernails are finally long enough to be good for something, I thought. I smugged inside, and thanked the steroids.

I’d made the nicest crust. I planned to have friends over for pie, and pretend it’s something we do all the time on a Sunday afternoon. On Friday, I stayed up late with my crust, with two whole sticks of butter, and the patience to add water until the dough clung together just enough. I even tied the two sections of dough together. (Who was it that told me once that it works, that a double-crusted pie bakes happier when its two halves sleep together in the fridge overnight?)

Nestling pie crusts

Oh yes, I did all the right things. I bought instant tapioca, because I’d never thickened with it before, and even folded my rhurbarb patch’s midseason surge in with the cherries.

Sour cherries and rhubarb

Then a friend called, just when I was about to roll the crust out. I turned my back, and in the time it took me to put a measuring cup in the sink, my dog stole about twenty percent of the dough. Right off the counter, in front of me, like I wasn’t even there. Just took a bite, and chewed thoughtfully, which is unusual – she’s a gulper, through and through. I’m sure that if she could speak, she’d have said Why yes, Jess, this is a fabulous crust. I can’t wait to taste it later.

We had a discussion, and she was exiled to the porch.

But really, it wasn’t that big of a deal – the skimpier crust forced me to roll the dough thinner than I’d have normally dared, and when I draped the last part of the lattice over the top, I almost shrieked with excitement. I brushed it with cream, sprinkled it with sugar, and tucked it into the oven with a twirl and a dance I’m glad no one got on film.

After it had cooled, I tapped my fingernails on the crust, and it made the hollow, almost tinny sound crust only makes when it’s impossibly flaky. I clapped, pushed the pie into the corner of the counter, where I knew my dog couldn’t get it, and texted my friends with a cherry pie invite. I ran out into the yard to clip flowers for the patio table.

A few minutes later, Scout, the Golden Retriever we’re watching this weekend, pranced down the deck stairs with my red oven mitt in his mouth. He was all wag.

Scout ate my pie

Scout ate my pie.

For the record, I didn’t cry. I didn’t get straight to work on another crust, either, which is surprising, because I wanted nothing more than to put him in one, all chopped up.

I screamed and shouted at him, and mourned for what seemed more like a masterpiece with every passing minute. Scout thought it was all a fantastic show, and wanted to know, Would perhaps a tennis ball help us enjoy my fit? My husband came home, and I wailed into his shoulder.

My first sour cherry pie. My perfect crust. How could he?

And was Bromley in on it? Did they plan the one-two punch, step by step pie ruination?

We salvaged two pieces out of the edge Scout didn’t touch. The crust was perfect. (Of course I can say that now that you can’t taste it, but really, it was. I promise.) The tapioca gelled the cherries together, and the filling sang with flavor.

Jim scraped what remained of the top half of the pie into the garbage, and saved the bottom crust, and its clingy bits, in a rosy heap in a Tupperware container.

“We’ll bake it again in the morning, and it’ll taste delicious,” he said. His optimism failed to cheer me.

I may find the ingredients again, because I may have been converted – sour cherries are worth their price, I know that much now. I may type the recipe out, so you can make it too.

But for now, I need a serious pout.

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Filed under dessert, failure, fruit, husband, kitchen adventure

Cherry Grump

Piece o' grump

I have a new favorite word: Grump. I like the verb best, as in to grump. It may look like a noun, but in my mouth it acts just like it sounds, like a bad mood coming to life. (Say it a few times. You’ll see.)

My friend Sarah said it first, when her dog was grumping around the house, pouting about being bullied by her cat. Then my dad’s knee started grumping, and before I knew what hit me, my pie crust started doing it, too.

Washington cherries will really start rolling into Seattle next week. (I can never wait. I bought two pounds from California. I consider it training for the cherry season.)

I wanted to make a big cherry galette, the kind whose folded, sugar-sprinkled edges are the high-end jeans of the dessert world. (You know the type: They’re supposed to be low-maintenance, but by the time you buy everything, trim the edges just right, and find the perfect thing to slip on top, you’ve spent just as much time as you might have spent on something “fancier.”) In the end, galettes look so perfectly unperfect, each pleat folded neatly over the one before, juice bubbling up and over one precisely unprecise undulation in the dough.

“Who, me?” says a galette. “I just threw on an old pair of jeans.”

Usually, though, like the jeans, galettes are worth it. More so than pie, if you ask me, which is why I’ve been making them recently.

(I just replaced those chocolaty jeans, by the way, because they also happened to have holes in unladylike places. It took me two whole months to find the ones, but they’ve been worth every penny.)

Bowl o' pits

This time, I started with a whole wheat crust, whipped about in the food processor with plenty of unsalted butter. I pitted a giant container of cherries, enough that by the end I wanted to toast and eat the actual pits, since I’d worked so hard for them. (Has anyone done this?)

fresh halved cherries

I mixed the little ruby halves up with lemon juice and a whisper of ginger, to satisfy my husband, who equates “ginger” with “dessert.” Just when I thought I was ready to pile the fruit into the crust, though, I noticed the cherries’ thin red liquid coating the cutting board and spilling out onto the counter, into the cracks between my granite tiles and down the facing on my kitchen cupboards (white, of course).

I’ll be honest: It’s hard to be in a bad mood when there are cherries in the kitchen, but I wasn’t having a very good day yesterday. My hands ached from typing (and then, stupidly, pitting), and this goshdarn notsummer weather Seattle’s been hanging onto wasn’t doing me any favors. (I’m wearing ski socks today.)

You could say I was grumping a bit myself.

I took one look at the juice, and self-doubt flooded in. I wondered whether I’d put enough cornstarch into the cherries to convince them to gel up together. I thought about the time I put too much fruit in my galette, and the edges simply unfolded like a flower. The dough relaxed under the weight of the berries and they all rolled right out in a blueberry stampede, so I ended up with a round of uncrusty dough, topped with a pool of blue goo.

I grumped that day, too.

Yesterday, my pie crust looked perfect, but I worried the edges weren’t up to their task. I didn’t want a cherry galette that would be, in Eloise’s words, ruined ruined ruined. Plus, I’ve been a little down on my luck recently. There were the cashew noodles that seized up into a delicious, but entirely too sticky mass five minutes after they hit the serving bowl. And those giant calzones, made with a sausage I somehow didn’t realize was chicken-based (and smoked, which I hate) until entirely too late. My ego wasn’t up for another failure.

I decided to hedge. I made my galette bloom-proof by cornering it in a cake pan.

Pie making seldom offers one a sigh of relief, at least not before it goes into the oven. But as I rolled the crust out and flopped it into the pan, I was more relaxed than ever, knowing that instead of patting and gently squishing and cutting and folding, I would only have to slop the edges over the cherries, easy as dropping a wet towel on the floor. It wouldn’t matter if there were a few microscopic holes in the crust, because the pan would hold any errant juices in.

That pie crust, I think she was a little relieved, too. I mean really, each and every time, she has to mind her manners. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. This time, she could really let her guard down, and grump if she wanted to. I felt like I might have been doing her a favor, flipping her on top of the cherries like that, without a speck of pretention.

The galette turned into a deep-dish cherry galette, with straight, sturdy sides that stand up royally on a plate.

I’ll call it a grump, because from now on, it’s what I’ll make when I’m grumping. When I know I don’t have the attention span for pie, or the self-confidence for a pretty galette. When I need something that puts me in a good mood the instant it pops out of the oven. (I think its success is impervious to bad moods.)

Whoever started naming fruit desserts after one’s constitution was a genius. Take the grunt, for example. It’s a fruit dessert, topped with big plops of biscuit dough. On its way into the oven, it’s sloppy enough that you almost always emit some sort of unsatisfied grunt. It’s perfect for the days when nothing can impress you.

In my opinion, though, even with betties and slumps and cobblers, that person didn’t go far enough.

Think of those days you dawdle in the kitchen – when you really mean to make dessert, but one thing leads to another, and suddenly dinner’s on the table and the chosen fruit is still languishing on the counter, unattended – why not go for a Raspberry Dither?

I’d love to know what comes out of the oven on the crankiest days. Maybe a Blueberry Bitch?

Guess I’ll find out. The season’s just beginning.

cherry grump

Cherry Grump (PDF)
Made with a robust whole wheat flour (I buy Stone-Buhr , if you must know), the crust for this faintly gingered grump – just another variation on fruit pie, made in a cake pan without pinching, folding, latticing, or worrying – has a sweet, almost graham crackery flavor. Serve it warm, with vanilla, ginger, or coconut ice cream.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water

For the filling:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 pounds Bing cherries, stemmed, halved, and pitted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on crust
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
Milk, for brushing crust

First, make the crust: Whirl the flours, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter, and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the water a little at a time, pulsing as you go, until the crust holds together when you press a handful into your palm. (You’ll need more water on a dry day, less on a humid one.) Transfer the dough to wax paper, form into a flat disc, wrap well, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and grease an 8” cake pan with butter. Cut the tablespoon of butter into small cubes, and set side.

Make the filling: Combine the cherries with the lemon juice in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir the sugar, cornstarch, and ginger together with a fork until no lumps remain. Add this dry mixture to the cherries, and stir until moist. Set aside.

mixing cherry grump

Remove the crust from the refrigerator, and let sit on a floured surface at room temperature for a few minutes, until soft enough to roll. Using a floured pin, roll the dough into a roughly 14” circle (no need to be too precise about the shape). Fold the dough into quarters, transfer it to the cake pan, and unfold it, centered on the pan. Gently fit the dough down into the sides of the cake pan, allowing the edges to flop over outward.

grump crust

Fill the dough with the cherry mixture, and dot the cherries with the reserved butter. Fold the dough’s edges inward, over the cherries, allowing them to land wherever they may. Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle the crust with sugar.

grump headed ovenward

Bake the grump for 10 minutes. Decrease heat to 350 degrees, and bake for 60 minutes more, or until the crust is browned and the filling bubbles excitedly. Let the grump cool about an hour before slicing (the fruit will firm up as it sits). Serve warm.

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Christmas, in May(ne)

I felt like a bit of a fugitive, slipping through Boston without telling a soul. I wrote a friend afterward: I hope you understand. I’d committed to the trip months before, and when I started flaring again, I just couldn’t bear the thought of traveling for more than one reason. I didn’t want to cancel the whole thing, but I wanted to be healthy.

It was the right decision. I’d planned to spend the week in Maine, with Kathy, testing and developing recipes for her next cookbook.

cakes cooling

Just as the plane left Seattle, it seems, the new drug regimen blossomed into a bit of energy, and we spent four delicious days pretending to cook for the holidays. (If you don’t feel like you’re appreciating May, try cooking 35 recipes without peas, asparagus, or rhubarb.)

I met Kathy about six years ago. Technically, she’s my husband’s aunt’s first cousin. The aunt introduced us when I was in culinary school (thanks, Kim!), thinking I might learn a thing or two from a seasoned cookbook author. I marched right into Kathy’s kitchen and demanded and internship, and since then, our lives have tumbled together. (Oh, how I’ve learned.) She’s become a mentor, and a dear friend. Since we moved to Seattle, I’ve missed the creative energy that simmers up and out of my brain when we cook together.

welcome to Kathy's

I’ve also missed her coffee. (She makes the best coffee.) This week, it helped us blaze through the better part of a book. (I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you there’s a holiday book I’ll be recommending next year.) We alternated cooking with eating, eating with baking, baking with typing, typing with snacking.

IMG_1021

There were naps involved, great flops onto Kathy’s red couch that recharged our appetites as much as our energy.

We had people over for dinner, there in her big farmhouse, and it really was a little like Christmas, sitting at the table long after we’d finished our last bites.

kathy's dining room

There are few houses in this world where a typical night involves a mom quizzing her daughter on her anatomy homework, while the daughter cracks lobsters open for her for lobster stew.

Chopped lobster

Where lunch means leftover rolled, stuffed leg of lamb and a slice of pork roast:

IMG_1076

Where cooking with another person means standing over a fried egg together in the morning before the caffeine has kicked in, one person salting and one person peppering, arms moving in concert like they belong to the same body.

I had a lovely time. We worked hard, but it almost felt like vacation.

The problem now is that I’m awfully tired of eating.

At least, I thought I was, until I fell in love with a berry display.

At first, it seemed like a good idea to just buy them, despite the price, and go on a fresh fruit binge for a few days, to clear away that post-Thanksgiving blah feeling. (And oh. My. How the steroids bump up the appetite.)

But looking at the strawberries and blueberries en masse like that, all cozied together like they were gearing up for a nap in the oven, my mind cartwheeled toward a bubbling berry crisp.

Then, standing there in the produce section with the little clamshells stacked up in my cart, I did some quick math, and almost fainted. I do not have $28 for a berry crisp, I thought. I heard George Bush, the devil on my shoulder, blathering on about a tax refund. Dan Barber popped up on the other side, and I remembered how I’d stocked up on frozen blueberries and raspberries at a farmers’ market recently (for less than what I’d pay in the freezer section at Whole Foods, mind you). I bought frozen strawberries, and headed home, where my hazelnut cache was waiting.

Three-Berry Crisp

Three Berry Crisp (PDF)
Before summer really comes, it’s hard to find berries plump enough to simmer into a juicy, full-flavored crisp. Using frozen berries (especially if you have the good fortune to buy them locally) is a good alternative if you can’t wait for July, and it can also be more economical. Here, I’ve spent the savings on hazelnuts for a deliciously nutty, gingery topping, but you could substitute chopped walnuts, pecans, or sliced almonds.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the fruit:
1 pound frozen blueberries
1 pound frozen strawberries
1 pound frozen raspberries
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the topping:
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir all the fruit ingredients together until the flour coats all pieces. Transfer to a 9” x 13” baking dish (or similar), and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the same bowl, stir all the topping ingredients except the butter together to blend. Drizzle the melted butter over the top, and stir until all ingredients are moistened.

After 20 minutes, remove the berries, stir to combine, and sprinkle the topping in an even layer over the berries, pushing it all the way to the edges of the pan. Bake another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is browned and the filling is bubbling.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, farmer's market, food politics, fruit, kitchen adventure, recipe, vegetables

Sorting and reading

I’m all tumbled up inside. We went to Colorado this weekend, to celebrate a loved one who had decided not to say that she was dying. It was, I think, the kind of gathering she’d envisioned, but I can’t chase the feeling of juggling too many emotions. There’s the surprise, that she had cancer at all, and the sadness, that she’s gone. There’s heartbreak, because she suffered the evilest death, but also happiness, because she had the kind of sweetness and charisma and kindness that made us all want to come together to think about her.

That’s just what we did. It seemed easy, hopping on a plane, then driving out I-70, to their house in the desert. It was the thing to do, so we did it. We hugged and cried and smiled and talked, but now, after the service, when there’s nothing left to do, it’s harder. Bill Withers comes on the radio, and I weep into my tea. We’ll miss her.

Anyway. It certainly puts things into perspective, as death always seems to do so effectively. There I was, whining about the weather and my stupid mouth, when she was fighting, literally, for her life. I need to find a sorting hat, and spend some time thinking it all out.

It’s been a while, I think, since I shared what I’ve been working on. Today, that feels like a safe topic. (Most links are PDFs.)

From Sunset magazine, a day with Bakery Nouveau’s William Leaman, something about Seattle’s Skillet Street Food, and a little ditty on learning my manners at Seattle’s Fairmont hotel.

Edible Seattle, a new local food magazine, is also out. The recipes aren’t available online yet, but pick one up (at Metropolitan Market, for example). Them’s tasty recipes. (Here’s a little more about what the magazine is about.)

In Seattle Metropolitan magazine, there’s been stuff about green garlic (from April) and razor clams (March). (I also chatted about clamming on Seattle’s NPR station, my segment starts at about the 34-minute mark.)

Ooh, and of course, don’t miss Seattle Weekly‘s annual dining guide.

And, lucky for my newly stitch-free mouth (not to mention my body), Arthritis Today reports that strawberries are natural anti-inflammatories. Here’s one of my strawberry recipes from AT online that I’ll be making again this week. No crunchy baguette required.

Salmon with Strawberry Salsa

Pan-Seared Salmon with Strawberry Salsa (PDF)
In strawberry season, top heart-healthy salmon with a sweet strawberry pico de gallo-style salsa for a nutritious, satisfying meal.

Serves 4
Prep time: 25 minutes

1 8-ounce container strawberries, tops removed, chopped
2 scallions (green and white parts), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 small salmon filets (with or without skin, about 1 1/3 pounds total)
2 teaspoons olive oil

Stir the strawberries, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno (if using) together in a small mixing bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, then rub fish on both sides with the oil and season with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add the salmon, skin side-up if applicable. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the salmon is nicely browned. Gently flip the fish over and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your filets, until cooked through. (As a general rule, fish takes about 10 minutes to cook (total) per inch of thickness.)

Transfer the fish to a serving plate, and top with the salsa. Serve immediately.

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Spring’s in my step

allium starting

It was a singing-out-loud kind of weekend. You know the type: You wake up, and because the sun is doing its darnedest to peek through, or because you know there’s a really sensational pastry in your near future, or maybe because it’s finally – finally – time to plant the garden you’ve been dreaming about all winter, those words just come blasting out.

Saturday morning, it was all three, and as I drove to meet a friend for a walk, Counting Crows flew right out my sunroof. (House rules: In the spring, the sunroof gets opened above 45 degrees.) I skipped through the day, planting early vegetables in my very first ever non-potted garden and moving dirt from here to there, cooing at the way the tulips were bursting out to greet the sun. I’m sure I saw them growing.

tulips starting

We’re not the only ones who feel spring, me and the flowers. My cat’s informed me that baby bird season is upon us. I’m only reading in feathers, but I believe there have been three catches this week: First it was that poor bird that got trapped inside the bedroom with us. I’d been fairly certain Jackson brought a playmate home, but didn’t expect the bird to be sitting on the windowsill inside my bedroom when I returned from the shower. It was quite the commotion, all of us flapping and squawking, me and the dog and the cat and the bird, until the one of us with opposable thumbs remembered that the windows open. (Here’s the video of the rest.) Then there was a teensy hummingbird, left on my office chair as an offering on Valentine’s Day. The evidence of Saturday’s kill, number three, is still fluttering around my feet when I walk through he house. I haven’t found the victim yet.

pan-seared tilapia

It’s great to have spring in my step, but honestly, there’s nothing of the sort going on in my kitchen. Jim is still gone, which means simple meals, like quick pan-seared fish with a squeeze of lemon, and mesclun salads with random cheese and fruit and nuts, whichever ones shout loudest.

random spring salad

Satisfying? Sure. But not inspiring. Almost boring, in fact. I’ve been combing through the freezer, past months-old clam chowder and homemade pasta sauce, only to find myself sitting down to a bowl of salt-flecked edamame for dinner. There’s just not as much fun in cooking up one of something, no matter how good it is. And every time I look outside, I can’t help but turn around to pout at my wintry produce drawer. I’m in a holding pattern: Kale. Potatoes. Grains. Soups. Stir-fries. Meat. Start over. I’m actually starting to fantasize about local asparagus.

All week, I’ve been paging through lists of ideas I’ve jotted down over the last few weeks, and nothing has sounded good. Nothing matches the spring I see outside. Macaroni and cheese? Too heavy for a sunny day. Ginger cream pie? I shouldn’t eat that whole thing myself. Maple walnut cake? Ditto. Eggs provencale? Too . . .something. It’s like my palate has PMS.

I’m sure you recognize the symptoms of a dinner rut. The books you open may as well not have text, for all you’re absorbing. You hit the markets, and wonder whether you dreamed your ability to cook. Your best knife feels foreign in your hands. And every time you journey through your refrigerator, you wonder when, and why, and how could you have possibly purchased all those condiments?

I was on that trip this afternoon, paddling through my jams and mustards and wondering how long does tamarind paste last?, when I stumbled upon an old friend:

jarred poached pear

Wait, did I forget to tell you about The Pears?

It’s dessert, from last weekend.

It was a last-minute thing. We had a guest for dinner, and the notion of dessert tiptoed quietly across my mind, just a few minutes before said guest was due to arrive. Suddenly there were four peeled pears simmering gently away in champagne, saffron, and cinnamon. They cooled while we ate dinner, then stood up tall and sultry in our bowls, demanding affirmation that they looked just fabulous in yellow.

“Yes, you look fabulous in yellow,” I said, and made a mental note to thank them later for looking so darn fancy after only ten minutes in the dressing room. Oh, and for wearing the perfect perfume.

We piled them with Greek yogurt, sprinkled them with freshly grated cinnamon, added a drizzle of honey, and dove in, happy for the sweet bites but relieved they wouldn’t moor us to our chairs for the evening.

This afternoon, with warmth beating into the kitchen, I opened the remaining pear, and walked out onto the porch, balancing its glistening, sunny body on a plate next to the primroses I planted yesterday. I knew it had been a whole week, but figured I’d give it a try – and the first incarnation had been so. . . darn . . . good.

Honestly: It was like eating a poached pear rolled in yeast. The champagne had turned. Totally inedible. (Shoot! I never thanked them.)

I know not why I might have expected something different, after a whole week, but I did. And now I’m pissed. At 4 p.m., they seemed like the harbinger of a happier kitchen, a way to make winter taste like sunshine, but in my mouth, they offended. The rut remains.

But you – you can forgive them. Make them, when you need a dessert that’s light and quick and healthy but still quite the looker. And oh – of course – don’t wait too long to eat them.

Saffron poached pear

Champagne-Poached Pears with Saffron and Cinnamon

Bring a cup of water, a cup of sugar, and three cups of champagne, along with a good pinch of saffron and two cinnamon sticks, to a strong simmer over high heat. When all the sugar has dissolved, snuggle four almost-ripe Bosc pears into the liquid on their sides (with the stems still attached). Cover the pears with a round of parchment, then a small plate, to keep the pears from bobbing out of the liquid. Simmer on low heat for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the pears), or until soft all the way through when poked with a skewer. Cool the pears in the liquid, overnight if necessary, and serve at room temperature, with Greek yogurt or ice cream, fresh cinnamon, and honey.

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The Blueberry Bread Jim Forgot

Blueberry Bread 1

The etymology of a recipe title is a sticky thing.

First, there’s this business of wanting people to understand what’s involved in the recipe instantly, in which case a descriptive name obviously gets the job done. Take All Whole Wheat Baby Blueberry Bread with Cinnamon-Walnut Streusel, for example.

Accurate? Sure. And quite often my approach. But second, there’s the importance of brevity, and simplicity. No one wants to write friends about a treat that requires an acronym in regular conversation.

Did you make that AWWBBBCWS last night?

I don’t think so.

The problem is, the simplest names are often misleading: Blueberry Breakfast Bread rolls off the tongue, but it wouldn’t be all that precise.

And for someone like me, someone who doesn’t like to skimp on the details, an imprecise title may take away from what’s special about a given recipe. This one is made with all white whole wheat flour, not just a touch, but it’s still remarkably light. There’s plain yogurt instead of sour cream in the batter, so it’s not as rich as coffee cake, but don’t you worry, there’s still enough fat in there to give it a good mouthfeel. And I do think two cups of your average highbush blueberry, dumped into the batter with such apparent overzealousness, could make the bread fall apart, whereas those bitty berries, from the type of low-lying blueberry bush common in the wild (or in Maine, or in this case, in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s) give the bread a good gong’s worth of bursting blueberry flavor, without sacrificing the structure of the cake itself.

Don’t even get me started on not telling you, right up front, that I could have added more sugar, but didn’t, in an attempt to bake a bread with a bit less cloying sweetness than your everyday blueberry coffee cake muffin.

Yes, all of this is downright impossible to fit into a recipe title.

So you see, simplicity has its downside, too.

Third, a good title will tell a bit of a story. Something about a person, or an event, maybe.

I made the bread last night, with just enough crunchy, sugary streusel topping to make the top of each slice interesting, and more tiny wild blueberries than I honestly meant to add. (I do believe this puts me smack-dab in the center of a sweets streak. I hope you’re right here with me.)

The batter seemed thick at first, thicker than I thought it would be. I really had to spread it into my loaf pans with a spatula, but once it rose up, crystalline and golden on top, I was happy I hadn’t added an ounce more moisture. I let it cool on the counter, and carefully tucked it into a bed of foil when all its heat had slipped back into the kitchen.

Last night, in my mind, I called it Blueberry Bread For Jim, Who Will Be Working On A Boat On Puget Sound For Ten Days Where Coffee Cake Isn’t So Convenient, So He Has Something Good To Eat For Breakfast On Valentine’s Day.

A mouthful, to say the very least. And though a story’s always nice, there’s the possibility that one’s idea of a good story-driven recipe title isn’t memorable for the reader, or that the story itself doesn’t quite work out.

This morning, for example, it was just The Blueberry Bread Jim Forgot.

Yup. It’s true. He forgot both loaves, just sailed off into the Sound without them. Now if someone had stolen them, half-eaten or even still untouched, from his desk in the lab on the boat, that would be one thing. We’d put a photograph on milk cartons, asking Have You Seen This Bread?

But they weren’t stolen. They were just forgotten.

So I guess that title is an accurate option. But who wants to bake a breakfast bread that’s forgettable?

The very best thing about recipe titles is that they’re infinitely changeable, so The Blueberry Bread Jim Forgot could undergo a bit of a titular face lift if, say, he made it for me upon returning from said commitment. Then it would be Jim’s Best Blueberry Bread (or Jim’s Only Blueberry Bread, but that’s beside the point), which implies a much more delicious reputation indeed, even though it would presumably taste the same.

But really, I couldn’t blame him. Setting out to sea with Instruments and Personnel (and oh, yes, that really fat boat they all but had to lube up to squeeze through the locks), his brain couldn’t have been focused so much on the kitchen counter. (Sigh.) So now it’s Blueberry Bread for Me To Consume Greedily In the Ten Days Surrounding Valentine’s Day.

In a matter of mere hours, it will be The Blueberry Bread That Won’t Stop Nagging Me All The Way From The Other Room.

But neither of those are really memorable titles, and a name that sticks is equally important.

And there we are, friends. Right back at square one.

You may call it whatever you choose. I call it breakfast every day for a week.

Blueberry Bread 2

Almost Unforgettable Whole Wheat Blueberry Bread (PDF)

When I make a conscious attempt to make a slightly healthier version of a typically unhealthy thing, there’s always the devil beside one ear, saying things like, “No sour cream? Good luck, honey.” Here’s one to prove him (or wait, I think it’s a her) wrong: Made with nonfat yogurt and all whole wheat flour, and packed with antioxidant-rich blueberries and flaxseed meal, you could almost call this bread nutritional. Seriously. Like a vitamin. Take two slices and call me in the morning.

Wait, did I mention that it’s topped with coffee cake-style walnut streusel?

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8 1/2” by 4” loaves

Baking spray or vegetable oil spray
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups plain nonfat yogurt
2 cups frozen wild (small) blueberries*, or fresh, if in season

*Note: To avoid too much streaking, be sure to keep the blueberries frozen until right before you add them to the batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2” by 4” loaf pans with the spray, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir the walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of the regular sugar together to blend, and set aside to use as a topping.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder, and salt to blend, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla, and mix on low to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the yogurt, and beat until almost smooth. Add all but about 1/4 cup of the flour mixture, a little at a time, mixing on low just until no white streaks of flour remain. Add the frozen blueberries to the remaining flour, toss to coat the berries, and gently fold the berries into the batter by hand with a plastic spatula. (The batter will be thick.)

Divide the batter between the greased loaf pans (if you have a scale, it should be about 1 1/2 pounds of batter per pan), spread it into the bottom of the pans, sprinkle the topping (generously) over the batter, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Let the bread cool 30 minutes in pans, then transfer to racks to cool completely before wrapping. Store cooled bread wrapped in foil at room temperature, up to 3 days, or refrigerated up to one week.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, fruit, recipe