Archives for category: fruit

One Thursday evening and Friday afternoon this month two different neighbors dropped by with gifts of pears from their trees. I said thank you and put them on the sideboard. Pears do not keep long unless they are picked green, so Sunday morning after breakfast I started peeling them and cutting them open, cutting out bad spots. Some of them had rotted from the inside out and went directly into the compost can.

On Friday I had pulled a few recipes from the pear section of the huge recipe binder on my bookshelf. Depending on the state of the pears, I could make clafouti or pear tart tatin, but I had my eye on some pear pecan muffins, which would also use the last of the pecans in the shell I had sitting around. I have been eating said pecans at the rate of two a day, cracked and broken and stirred into my favorite summer breakfast of polenta with fresh peaches, mostly because of the time it takes to crack them and pick the meats from the shell and cartilage. Making the muffins gave me the excuse I needed to cover the breakfast room table with newspaper and crack all of the remaining pecans.

I had researched methods of shelling pecans on the internet. Some people boil them. Some people take the to other people who shell them. Some people use side cutters and pliers or build machines to crack the shells. What I learned was that I had been using a nut cracker incorrectly my entire life: I always put the nut in and squeezed as hard as possible —  generally, hard enough to break nuts in half. Instead, a couple of online sources suggested rotating the nut several times and applying just enough pressure to crack the outer shell without damaging the nut. Oh. I was intrigued.

I tried the new method, concentrating on cracking the ends of the nuts — one YouTube video presented removing the ends as the key to easy shelling. I had limited success with this maneuver, usually ending up with the ends of the nuts breaking in the shell. What did happen, though, is that I got absorbed in the task of shelling the pecans, forgetting about time as I turned the nuts, cracked off pieces of shell, pried nutmeat from shell with a curved pick. I forgot my coffee. I forgot my thoughts.

When I finished shelling the nuts and had moved on to another kitchen task — measuring flour, perhaps — I had the thought that if I would take the care in dealing with people that I took in shelling pecans, my relationships would go better — if I retained an open, curious attitude about what would work best and tried to do things gently so as not to hurt anyone. I heard my teacher’s voice, or her teacher’s voice, reminding me that anything you do can take you deep.

Naturally, this insight was fleeting. As I looked for the millet that I wanted to add to the muffins I came upon difficulties: I had to look in a cardboard box that was balanced precariously on some glass jars. The box itself contained other glass jars. Trying to keep it balanced while sorting through its contents, while standing on a step ladder, proved impossible. My mother informed me that the glass jars in the box only contained beans and suggested another location in the cabinet. I looked there with no success and then moved the ladder across the kitchen to look in a bin in another high cupboard. Because I could not see into the bin I had written a list of the contents on a post-it and stuck it on the side, but, when I climbed up, the post-it was gone and I had no alternative but to reach over my head to lift the heavy bin down to see what was in it. I found this irritating in extreme, that my contents label was gone. And, of course, the millet was not there. I said a few words about how I had tried to find a solution and someone else had undone my efforts.

This happens everyday, of course. Someone undoes my efforts and I undo someone’s efforts, each of us not knowing what we are doing that is messing with someone’s solution or desires or plans.

Eventually, I found the millet and put a half cup of it into the muffins. I have never cooked with millet before and it provides a satisfying crunch.

A few days ago, after two months of searching, I found some guitar lessons on YouTube that will help me improve my guitar playing. After nearly two years of busking I am bored by the sameness of my arrangements: because I play many of the same songs everyday I have started to hear what I am doing and to long for other options. Anyway, I finally found lessons and exercises from three different teachers that feature Travis picking, a style that I never studied formally or extensively. When I first found them and played through the exercises as best I could I was ecstatic: the exercises were challenging for me, I had to take them slowly and work to get them right. In my initial enthusiasm I researched tips for successful music practicing and learned that it was more effective to practice twice or three times a day for a shorter amount of time than to use the long sessions I had been using. I also learned that it was good to practice every single day, even for only ten minutes.

Following this advice, I divided my practice sessions. The first time I tried this I was late getting home from work and had to jam one practice session in shortly after arriving home so as to get it in before dinner and have a break before session number two. That evening I worked rigorously on the exercises in session one. What I noticed when I began session two is that I wanted to play, but I did not want to practice the exercises, that, in fact, I wanted to play anything at all as long as I did not have to play by any rules. Hmm.

Today, I was back at rigorous practice in session one. And during session one I noticed the comments of voices in my head. The loudest one wants to tell everyone I know how hard this practice is for me. She wants someone to listen to her. Another one calmly reminds me that I chose this set of exercises and this practice routine to improve my playing and relieve my boredom and give me more choices of how to play. The third voice gently suggests that I take breaks. The last one cautions me to be patient and to pay attention to what I am doing so that I do not practice mistakes.

All during this period from June to now as I transition into a new life back in my old location I have been nursing a few tomato plants and three pepper plants that I started from seed back in March, April and May. I have transplanted seedlings to buckets, staked them, watered them, watched them. They have grown taller, but the tomato plants have a tendency to wilt here in the fog. As of this afternoon I have small green tomatoes, both Principe Borghese and Amish Paste varieties and, miraculously, at least one flower on each of the pepper plants. Let us hope that September will provide enough heat and clear days to ripen them all. I’ll let you know at the end of the month — perhaps I’ll even find my camera by then and add a photo or two.

So, you know I’ve been on a “Work With What You Got” kick for October at The Kale Chronicles. You know that I have been eating rye flakes, rolled oats and granola cooked with dried apples and milk, and then with Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil and peanut butter: when we ran out of peanut butter I substituted cashew butter and somehow breakfast keeps rolling along. So does dinner: Mom bought some black cod at Trader Joe’s on Wednesday and with Johnny coming over for dinner on Friday night (Yay!) I prepared the fish by baking it in a foil packet (similar to the baked salmon I made here) with roasted red bell peppers and kalamata olives from jars, fresh basil from the basil plant on the breakfast room table and a squeeze of Meyer lemon from our front yard tree. I made another round of my version of Shira’s Brussels sprout salad with toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries, put some red potatoes in the oven to bake with the fish and spent some time in the kitchen with my mother concocting a family favorite dessert, a baked lemon pudding.

Original watercolor painting shows baked lemon pudding and ingredients.

Lemon Pudding. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper, Sharyn Dimmick.

The lemon pudding began, as things often do at our house, with substitutions: the classic recipe, culled from an index card in one of my mother’s recipe files calls for Wheaties (“Breakfast of Champions”) cereal in the topping. Mom’s search of our high storage cupboards revealed that the orange boxes she thought contained Wheaties were in fact Bran Flakes. Oh. She decided to combine Bran Flakes and Corn Flakes to approximate the missing Wheaties.

I went out to the yard to gather lemons from the tree, bringing in four of the ripest ones I could reach. I asked Mom about quantity. She said, “The recipe calls for the juice of two lemons, but these are bland — maybe add an extra one.”

I zested and juiced three lemons, squeezing each half through my hand. This resulted in just a quarter-cup of juice.

“That’s only a quarter-cup,” I said.

“Maybe do the other one,” she replied.

I juiced the fourth lemon, but did not zest it, mainly because I had absentmindedly cut it in half to squeeze instead of picking up the microplane. Life is imperfect and I one of its imperfect creatures.

I reminded Mom that the topping for this pudding is usually tooth-ache-ingly sweet. I was working on the lemon filling while she worked on the topping and we agreed to scant the sugar in our respective parts. She reduced the brown sugar in the recipe that doubles for crust and topping and I scanted the 3/4 cup white sugar in the filling. The result of the combined sugar reduction was a more delicious pudding than usual, which we ate with the leftover sweetened mascarpone from last week’s strawberry shortcake. I present to you the modified recipe with additional observations in the Food Notes.

Homey Lemon Pudding

For lemon filling:

Juice and zest 2 ordinary Eureka lemons or 4 Meyer lemons. Set aside.

Place in saucepan:

Scant 3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp flour

1/8 tsp kosher salt

Stir in gradually:

1 cup very hot water

Bring sugar-flour-water mixture to boil over direct heat, stirring constantly for ten minutes.

Remove from heat.

Beat 2 eggs until smooth.

Temper the eggs by drizzling a little of the liquid into the eggs and whisking with a fork. Drizzle a little more liquid and whisk again. Repeat two or three more times until the eggs are perceptively warm before adding the eggs to the filling and whisking to combine. Tempering the eggs prevents having bits of cooked eggs in your lemon filling.

Add reserved lemon juice and zest to filling and stir to combine. Let filling cool while you make the topping (which also serves as the pudding’s base). At this time, also preheat your oven to 325.

In a mixing bowl combine:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

a pinch of salt (unless using salted butter)

Cut in 1/3 cup shortening (Mom uses part margarine and part unsalted butter)

Add:

3/4 cup lightly crushed Corn Flakes

3/4 cup lightly crushed Bran Flakes (OR 1 cup Wheaties*)

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Press 2/3 of brown sugar mixture into the bottom of a square pan.

Pour cooled lemon filling over topping

Top with remaining 1/3 topping.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream (creme chantilly) or sweetened whipped mascarpone. If you use Cool Whip or whipped nonfat dried milk I don’t want to hear about it, although I am not in your kitchens to supervise what you do.

Food Notes: If you have Wheaties on hand you only need a cup of them: they are thicker and crunchier than the other cereals we substituted here. On the other hand, the recipe was formulated for “old Wheaties,” which had less sugar than the current product, so substituting Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes may more closely resemble the original recipe. Bran Flakes on their own lack the necessary crunch, which is why Mom opted to mix them with Corn Flakes here. If you use salted butter in the topping you can skip the pinch of salt — it will provide all of the salt you need. Mom uses commercial sweetened shredded coconut — you can use unsweetened if you like: the topping ingredients provide plenty of sugar! We like tart lemon fillings — if you like yours sweeter either don’t scant the sugar in the filling or use one fewer lemon than we did.

Johnny and I liked the pudding so much that we had another square apiece after breakfasting on scrambled eggs with roasted peppers and cheddar cheese and sourdough toast on Saturday morning…

California has a long growing season, so even in years when the crops are delayed, when fresh corn does not show up until after Fourth of July, when we are still pining for the first tomatoes, when we have a cold spring, we have certain foods longer than you have them in other parts of the country. Case in point: strawberries. In mid-October the strawberries from Lucero Farm are sweeter than they were in June and July. Go figure.

Original watercolor painting depicts biscuit-type strawberry shortcake.

Cowboy Strawberry Shortcake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

I know many of you have moved onto apples, pumpkins and grapes for your desserts, but my friend Margit presented me with a basket of those strawberries this Saturday and we did not eat them immediately. In our refrigerator (which I have not yet discussed) there languished an unopened pound container of mascarpone cheese that Mom bought at Canned Foods Grocery Outlet and never used because she didn’t have any recipes containing it.

I hunted around through my saved blogs folder and found some lovely recipes, none of which called for more than a quarter cup of mascarpone. I eliminated other wonderful recipes requiring me to mix the mascarpone with whipping cream and line tins with ladyfingers (no tiramisu). I went to my favorite site of all things Italian, In the Bartolini Kitchens, and still found nothing I wanted to make tonight. I looked up a Joyce Goldstein recipe for a rum mascarpone mousse but could not find the lone packet of unflavored gelatin which I swear has been lurking in our kitchen for years.

Then I read somewhere about sweetened, whipped mascarpone. Aha! We would have strawberry shortcake again, this time with mascarpone rather than whipped cream. I would use the occasion to get out my sourdough starter and make biscuits for the shortcake base.

First I had to taste the mascarpone. Undeterred by the expiration date of August 2012 (our refrigerator is cold), I broke the plastic seal and dipped a teaspoon into the cheese. My tongue told me it was fine — it reminds me of the clotted cream they eat in England. I put it back in the refrigerator while I washed and hulled the strawberries, fed my starter some fresh flour and a little water to invigorate it, left it on the counter to get warm and put a steel bowl and beaters  in the fridge to chill.

At 5:00 I began to assemble the shortbread dough, aka sourdough “cowboy” biscuits with extra sugar. You can find a recipe for sourdough starter here. I keep a jar of starter in the back of the refrigerator and use it indiscriminately to make waffles, biscuits and, pizza and bread.

I have adapted the recipe for cowboy sourdough biscuits (which the authors call “Rocky Mountain Sourdough Biscuits,” but their story features a cowboy cook who bakes them) from The Book Lovers’ Cookbook.

Sourdough “Cowboy” Biscuits for Shortcake

Preheat oven to 425.

Whisk together:

1 cup unbleached flour*

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp sugar

Cut in 1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening.

Stir in 1 cup sourdough starter.

A soft dough should form. Gather dough together and knead lightly, adding more flour by the tablespoon if it is really sticky.

Lightly flour a bread board, marble slab or other work surface. Roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness

Cut dough with biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass. I like to use two cutters, one medium-sized and one small to make top hats. Roll together scraps to form more biscuits, handling dough as little as possible. Repeat until all scraps have become biscuits or top hats, forming the last scraps into a hat with your hands if necessary.

Transfer biscuits to ungreased baking sheet.

Melt 1 Tbsp unsalted butter and brush biscuit tops with it. Sprinkle with sugar (raw sugar is good) as desired. Let biscuits rest for fifteen minutes before baking them for ten to twelve minutes.

Split biscuits and top with prepared berries. Dollop with whipped, sweetened mascarpone.

Oh, I didn’t tell you how to make that? I told you to chill the bowl and beaters. Then beat your mascarpone with some sugar (suggested ratio: 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of sugar to one pound mascarpone), and vanilla extract as desired. I plan to eat the leftover mascarpone on biscuits after the strawberries are gone, perhaps with a nice cup of tea in the afternoons, unless Mom gets to it first — she says she will use it in pastry of some kind: sounds like a win-win to me.

Friday morning I was invited to a Hobbits’ second breakfast in Piedmont. I saw no reason not to go. Second breakfasts work for me because I get up before dawn most days and can eat my first breakfast before 6:00 AM — by 11:00 I might be a little hungry, by noon I have to eat again. Plus, I love breakfast food: eggs, waffles, pancakes, bacon, cinnamon rolls, leftover pie, home fries, fresh fruit.

Original ink and watercolor painting shows people around breakfast table.

Second Breakfast at Vicki’s. 12″ x 12″ ink and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Unlike most of the events I go to this breakfast was not billed as a potluck, but I asked Vicki if she wanted me to bring something and she said I could if I wanted to. I had been eying a recipe for Brown Sugar Pecan Pear Muffins and had actually printed it out. This morning I took it into the kitchen with me. I peeled and chopped six small pears and then I started messing around: I saw the two large peaches on the counter that needed to be eaten and thought, “Why not put them in with the pears?”

The original recipe calls for a cup of canola oil. I do not like canola oil and I do not like recipes that call for a cup of oil either (a cup of butter is different, somehow, and I use a cup of vegetable shortening in my pie crust, which is probably worse for you, but a cup of oil produces an oily texture in quick breads). I substituted a cup of plain yogurt, raising the protein content of the muffins.

Then I looked at the 3 cups of all-purpose flour. Um. Too gummy and too white for me. I am out of whole wheat pastry flour, but I need to healthy this up a bit, especially since I am going to indulge in the entire cup of brown sugar it the recipe calls for. So, I used a cup and a half of unbleached flour, a half cup of regular whole wheat flour and a cup of rolled oats.

After that I followed the recipe as written, except I don’t use non-stick cooking spray, so I slathered the muffin tins with Crisco, and I didn’t have any pecans so I substituted pistachios.

Here is the modified recipe:
Peach-Pear-Pistachio Muffins with Brown Sugar
Preheat oven to 350.

Grease 2 12-cup muffin tins.

Peel and dice 6 small pears or four large ones.

Dice two large peaches and combine with pears

Shell 1 cup pistachios and add to fruit.

Beat 2 large eggs with 1 cup of plain yogurt, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1 cup of oats (quick or rolled oats are fine, instant not), plus 1 tsp vanilla.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.

Add 2 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp baking powder to flour mixture, along with a touch of salt. Add 1 and 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp cardamom.

Fold liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Fold in fruit and nuts.

Spoon muffin batter into greased muffin cups

Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on how dark you like your muffins to be.

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Food Notes: These muffins are sweeter than my standard multi-grain muffins, but they are not so sweet that they make your teeth hurt. They make a nice treat on cooler mornings and evenings. When the cardamom hits the liquids it sends up a glorious aroma — it’s worth making them once for that alone. If pears and peaches are long gone in your neck of the woods, try using apples and fresh figs, or use dried fruit that has been soaked in a little rum or juice to re-hydrate.

I took half of these muffins to the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast, a delightful affair where we ate bacon, sauteed mushrooms, shirred eggs made in muffin tins, toast, butter, lemon curd, artisan jams, pumpkin bread and pots of black tea, with chamomile for those that don’t indulge. The table was all set with matching place settings, flowers from someone’s garden, thick, white woven napkins. We spent the meal largely discussing singing and cooking — what’s not to like?

I am still working my way through the pears from my friend Margit’s tree. Because we picked them green and I stored them in the back of our refrigerator in a paper bag they have been holding up nicely.

Original watercolor shows salad of pears, arugula, cranberries, feta, pistachios.

Pear-Arugula Salad. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two nights ago I wanted a light dinner. I had some arugula I needed to use. I had pears. I decided to make a salad. I washed and spun the arugula in the salad spinner. Then I went out to pick a ripe Meyer lemon from our tree. Returning to the cutting board, I squeezed both halves of the lemon into the bowl and then cored and sliced three greenish pears lengthwise, leaving the skins on. I tossed the pears with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Then I added a small splash of olive oil and tossed the arugula and pears again. Next I shelled some pistachios and grabbed a handful of dried cranberries.

I was thinking of shaving Parmesan or Pecorino Romano into the salad, but feta won out: I crumbled a small block of feta over the greens, fruit and nuts, then tasted to adjust seasoning. The only thing it needed was a bit of honey to bring out the sweetness. I drizzled a little on top and tossed the salad again.

This is a wonderful salad for the first few days of fall weather when it is sometimes warm enough to eat a salad for lunch or dinner. I served it again last night as a side salad with a dinner of turkey chili, cornbread and Gravenstein apple pie. The second time I made it I used roasted pistachio oil instead of olive oil. By the time I cooked and ate I didn’t have enough time to finish my painting, which is why this post is a day later than usual.

If you should live somewhere where pears and arugula are available in late November, this would make a lovely Thanksgiving Day salad. If not, make it and eat it while pears and arugula are to be had.

I still have a lot of pears in the house from my friend Margit’s tree, sitting in a brown bag in the back of the refrigerator so that they will stay as green as possible for as long as possible: my mother only eats pears when they crunch — I’ll eat them slightly softer than that, but I do not enjoy pears that have turned yellow (It’s that mushy texture).

Yesterday I pulled out the pears and found about five yellow ones, two large and three small. I had volunteered to make a dessert last evening — my mother has a sweet tooth and is eating soft foods until her current round of dental work is over. Plus, I had done something that made her uncomfortable and needed to work my way back into her good graces.

Original watercolor painting shows pear clafouti, dried cranberries, pears.

Pear Clafouti with Cranberries. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What to make? I could roll out pie crust and make another pear tart tatin. But Johnny once said he wanted to elope with that when I served it at Ballad group, so it would be better to make that when he is around to enjoy it. Carly Sullivan had posted a recipe for clafouti that I had saved. I took a look at it again, and then adapted it for ingredients we had. Basically, I used white sugar instead of honey, milk and half and half instead of buttermilk, omitted the vanilla and added dried cranberries to the fruit layer, browned the butter and cooked the pears in it, throwing the sugar on top to caramelize, cooking it down until the mixture was fairly dry, giving the pears time to absorb butter, sugar, lemon, ginger and cranberry flavors. The cranberries made it pretty, too.

To make the clafouti I just made:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Select 2 large yellow pears (or 3 smaller ones). Core and slice them thinly, but do not peel them: the skins help hold the pear slices together.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat in a skillet, allowing the butter to brown, but not burn, before adding the sliced pears.

Sprinkle about 1/4 cup sugar over the top and jerk the skillet a few times so that the sugar gets distributed among the pears.

Allow mixture to cook down until the pears have released their liquid and the liquids have reduced to a thin caramel.

Turn off heat.

Add the juice of half a lemon, a generous grating of fresh ginger (use your microplane and grate directly over the fruit), a small handful of dried cranberries.

Pour the fruit mixture into a tart pan or pie plate.

Now make the batter:

Crack 3 eggs and whisk them.

Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and whisk again.

Whisk in 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Add 1/4 cup half and half and 3/4 cup milk*

Add vanilla extract (I poured it into the cap from the vanilla bottle and used about half a capful).

Whisk until just blended.

Pour batter over prepared fruit in pan.

Bake for thirty-five minutes. Serve warm or cold, cut in pie-like wedges.

* Our standard milk is 1%. If you have whole milk, like Celi, just use a cup of whole milk — I added the half and half to make the milk richer, but you can make it with any kind of milk you have, including soy milk, nut milk or coconut milk.

Food Notes: This made a easy, delicious dessert, creamy and custardy with crisp, buttery edges. Cooking the fruit first on the stove meant no watery flavors. This would make an excellent Thanksgiving dessert if you are not utter traditionalists like we are, having to have pumpkin pie with whipping cream, made from the recipe on the Libby’s can, slightly modified. (We also make fruit pie of some description, cherry or apple or blueberry or mixed berry, depending on what is around).

The Lauren Project: Lauren is back in Santa Fe, still cooking up your recipes. Please be patient: we will announce the prize winners by the end of this month.

Friday I called my friend Margit to ask her something or other and she said, “Oh. I forgot to tell you — the pears are ready for picking.” She has a backyard tree.

After lunch I walked down the hill, borrowed a tall kitchen step stool and began to pick pears. Most were green (good pears ripen off the tree), a few were yellow. I took a large bag home and revised my plans for making a large Gravenstein apple pie for my ballad group on Saturday, deciding instead to make a Pear Tart Tatin. This time around I added a jigger of dark rum to the pears after I cut them and sprinkled a few grains of crushed cardamom over the pears and caramel before I laid on the crust.

Original watercolor shows pain perdu with carmelized pears on plate.

Pain Perdu with Pears. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

When the tart tatin was in the oven I noticed that I still had rum in the pie plate where the pears had been. You know I hate to waste things, so I went fishing for the yellowest pears I had, the ones that would not keep another day. I peeled them, cut away the cores and stems and any brown, mushy spots. I plunked them into the rum. After I finished flipping the tart tatin onto a plate I poured the pears and rum into the cast iron skillet and set it in the still warm oven. I hoped the pears would start to cook from the residual heat and perhaps soak up some caramel flavor from the pan.

This morning I wrote and read and listened to music for awhile before breakfast, perhaps a bit too long. I knew I wanted coffee and I knew I needed to cook the pears, but what would I do with them? I didn’t want to take the time to make a pot of oatmeal. Ah. Pain perdu, “lost bread,” aka French toast. Because I was only feeding myself I took 1 long slice of sourdough sandwich bread, cut it in half and toasted it in the toaster oven. While it toasted I beat 1 egg in a shallow pan, added about 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of sugar and a splash of vanilla. I put the bread into the egg mixture, turning it over once.

Meanwhile I set the cast iron skillet on low heat. I heated the pears, rum and leftover caramel for a few minutes, then pushed the pears to the side to continue cooking and added just a smidgeon of butter, perhaps a teaspoon to prevent the bread from sticking. I turned the heat up to medium and cooked the bread on both sides before removing it to a plate and spooning the pears and caramel on top of it.

Food Notes: This made a lovely breakfast as is, but I could imagine adding some ricotta, quark or yogurt for the contrasting flavor.

Other Notes: The Lauren Project is cooking right along. Several people have submitted recipes to the contest. Some people have sent us more than one. But those of you who have not submitted anything yet still have some time: the contest deadline is August 31, 2012, 12 midnight, Pacific Time. After that, Lauren will review (and perhaps test cook) some of the recipes and we will begin awarding prizes. In case you have forgotten, or are new to this contest, the prizes will consist of one red chile pot holder, one signed seasonal cookbook with paintings by Sharyn Dimmick, one copy of Sharyn’s music CD “Paris,” and one Kale Chronicles’ painting of your choice. One prize per person, please. When Lauren chooses her first winner I will contact that person to ask which prize they want and then we will move to the second winner and so on until we are out of prizes. All persons in the USA or Canada who submit recipes will be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles painting they purchase through the end of 2012.

Original painting shows cherry plums, plum cake, plum caramel.

Plum Cake. 9″ x 12″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create an end. Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday and she is coming over to go out to lunch with my mother in Walnut Creek. Barbara likes plum cake. I had half a colander of fresh cherry plums on the counter and a jar of wild plum jam that I needed to use. I had just read David Lebovitz’s blogs on butterscotch sauce (which I am dying to make) and peach cobbler, plus a post on plum cake made with cornmeal from Two Peas and Their Pod. Barbara loves whipped cream. So what would I do? I would make the cornmeal-plum cake, adapting it a little to give it a more butterscotch-y flavor by substituting some evaporated cane juice for half a cup of the white sugar and I would use the jam to make some plum caramel to serve with the cake.

For the plum caramel, I followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, except, instead of cooking fresh plums, I just added plum jam (aka cooked plums) to the caramel base, cooked it for a few minutes and strained the results. You can make simple caramel by putting 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water and melting it over high heat, shaking the pan every now and then (do not stir). When it takes on a pale golden color, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1/4 cup water, not getting too close to the pan. You can stir now. If you are adding fruit puree to the caramel, add it now (this works with any berry or stone fruit), add it now and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Strain out any solids or seeds that have slipped through, put your caramel in a clean jar in the fridge and you are good to go for later. Fruit caramel is less acidic and more complex than simple purees and is perhaps my favorite recipe I learned from this cookbook.

Now the cake. You can see the original here. Since cakes are not my favorite things I followed the recipe closely with just two substitutions (okay, three). First, I had medium eggs rather than large — they were organic and brown — so I threw in an extra one. Then, I had lots of cherry plums rather than the four or five large plums cited in the recipe. I already told you I put in 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice for 1/2 cup of white sugar. Oops. Um. Four substitutions. I substituted a quarter cup of sour half and half for some of the buttermilk because, you know, we had it, and it is similar, but richer.

So, this is what you get when you put together all of those substitutions with the original recipe:

Barbara’s Birthday Plum Cake

Pit the cherry plums you are using (Or pit and chop larger plums into bite-sized pieces). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour. After measuring sift it into a small mixing bowl.

Whisk into flour 1 tsp baking powder,

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup corn meal

Then soften 1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 Tbsp)

Cream butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy.

Add — one at a time — 4 medium eggs (or use three large), incorporating egg fully before next addition.

Measure 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup sour cream or sour half and half, plus 1/4 cup buttermilk, which is what I used).

Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk, in increments, starting and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a cake pan. I used a bundt pan because it looks festive.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan. Scatter plums over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for fifty minutes. Test to see if it is done. In a bundt pan, my cake took one hour and five minutes to show some browning on the top and to pass the toothpick test.

Cool by hanging bundt pan on a glass bottle. This is fun. Trust me.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream and a pool or drizzle of plum caramel. If you are my sister-in-law, add more whipped cream. Enjoy.

Food Notes: Keeping to the art of substitution, you can use any sour thing for the buttermilk — yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, even sour milk. You can make the cake as originally suggested with all white sugar, or use all evaporated cane juice. You can probably use some other fruit for the plums, although the plums (with skins) provide a beautiful color and a nice tartness that plays well against the cake. The whipped cream provides yet another contrast (and besides, we like whipped cream when we are celebrating).

Watermelon pickle: I had a problem with the watermelon pickle — it wasn’t the recipe — it was me. so I’ll be trying it again with this week’s watermelon and report back on that later.

Photo of ripe red watermelon in steel bowl.

The one that got away — part of the watermelon that rolled off the counter.

On Wednesday I received a small watermelon from my Riverdog Farm CSA. Grown eighty-some miles away in summer heat, the melon was sweet and pink — I know because five minutes after I set it on the counter I heard an odd thunk: it had rolled off the counter and split open when it hit the floor. There would be no saving this watermelon for later. I picked it up, washed it off and tasted it. Good. Then I set it aside for a few days as the temperature took a nosedive and the fog rolled in to stay — who wants to eat watermelon in fifty-degree weather?

Fortunately, I had a plan for some of this watermelon: when I bought my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator the booklet contained this sentence: “Cantaloupe and watermelon slices become candy-like when dried.” Candy-like. Hmm. Then Krista and Jess reported on their dried watermelon chips. I knew I had to try it when watermelon came along again.

I spent an hour in the kitchen this morning, cutting 1/2 inch thick slices of watermelon, removing the seeds and cutting the rind away. The easiest way to do this proved to be to cut a slice and then slice through the melon perpendicular to the rind to produce small batons or wedges and then to cut the rind away. After half an hour of this, I noticed that I was developing a neat pile of watermelon rind.

Now, I am one of those people that, if you give her a slice of watermelon, will eat deep into the rind. Watermelon rind reminds me of cucumber with no bitterness and no seeds. And yet, because Mom doesn’t can, I have never made watermelon rind pickles. I called her into the kitchen and asked, “Back in the day when you ate watermelon pickles, were they sweet or sour?”

“Not sweet enough,” she said.

“Sort of like bread and butter pickles?” I asked.

“Not as good,” she said.

She told me to look in the old Mowequa cookbook, but I headed upstairs to check my saved blogs file. Not too far into the seven hundred recipes I had saved was Natalie’s recipe for watermelon pickle. I have started to make it and will report on the results on Wednesday.

Painting depicts apple pie ingredients: flour, butter, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Gravenstein Apple Pie 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

Things to make right now: Gravenstein apples are in! Ann and I picked a big bowlful of them from a yard in Berkeley and Mom made our first Gravenstein apple pie of 2012. I cannot say enough good things about this pie so if you are lucky enough to live within range of Gravenstein apples, by all means, get some. Bernie at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market has them right now if you don’t want to forage for them, or if you need more. I also made zucchini-feta pancakes this week. This time I threw a little leftover pesto with the fresh herbs and feta — it’s a delicious variation. As I write this I have another peach and plum crisp in the oven, this time made with white and yellow peaches and little cherry plums from someone’s backyard tree. And two days ago I made this tomato tart, again with lemon cheese, but with brown mustard and shredded tarragon. And of course this is a good time for Deborah’s somewhat famous tomato platter or Greek salad, with tomatoes and cucumbers in the market and peppers beginning to come in.

Photo of watermelon candy, aka dried watermelon

Watermelon candy in the dehydrator.

The watermelon candy is small and sticky — it reminds me of dried tomatoes, only sweeter and pinker. I was catching up on my sleep today after nearly a month of periodic insomnia so I didn’t take the time to do a new painting. Instead I offer you photos of watermelon and watermelon candy.

Original watercolor painting shows bowl of fruit salsa and ingredients.

Peach-Plum-Corn Salsa. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have my foot in several art camps: I hang out with writers at retreats. I meet regularly with groups of local folk musicians. And this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend to wrap-up party for the July 2012 Caerus Artist Residency in Sonoma County with my best friend (and Caerus co-founder) Suzanne Edminster.

I prepared a dish of fresh peach, plum and corn salsa, inspired by this recipe, and bought some blue and yellow gluten-free corn chips at the Santa Rosa Safeway. When I got to the party, the hostess gave me a bowl for the chips and I put my old, scarred Tupperware container on the table next to them. Other guests arrived, bringing fruit pies, buffalo wings, blackberry-apple crostata, pasta and green salads. The table held napkins, plastic forks and knives and paper plates.

I am used to folk music parties, which go something like this. Each person arrives and plunks something homemade or store-bought on a central table, greeting each other and often asking, “What did you bring?” Once people have dispensed with kitchen chores and stowed their instrument cases we take seats around the table and begin to chat and eat. It is only after we have served ourselves food and talked for awhile that someone will say, “Bill, do you have a song?” Or a late arrival will ask, “Have you been singing?” We say. “No, we’re still eating,” or “We haven’t sung a note.”

Musicians are always hungry. They congregate in kitchens where the acoustics are good, leaning against the counters. Opera singers cannot eat much before a performance, but feast afterwards — it doesn’t feel good to sing on an overly full stomach.  After a performance you are high on music, full of energy and ravenous.

Eventually at music parties everyone has had her fill and we start to sing, often taking turns going around the table. Some of us have tradtitional places or chairs we like to sit in. If it is big party, the tune-players will slip away to other rooms, leaving the singers to themselves. If it is a small gathering we will remain around the table all day.

The Caerus artists behaved differently. They sat their dishes on the table and started looking around. Some looked for places to display their art: an easel, a window seat, the edge of a wall. Most of them did not seem in a hurry to eat: they wanted to wander around and look at the art as though they were at an opening, carrying their small plates and congregating in groups of two or three. They ate alright, but they ate on the fly. My friend Suzanne says artists graze. I say that they are too busy to look around to eat seriously, but they will notice if the food is beautifully presented and admire serving dishes and particular utensils. These may be the people who say, “That looks too pretty to eat.” To a folk musician, there is no such thing as “Too pretty to eat” or “Too ugly to eat” either — if it is edible, someone will eat it.

At the Caerus party I parked myself in a chair next to the table (old habits die hard) and had conversations with whoever happened by. I stood out by not standing.

In case you are wondering what writers do at parties, in my experience they hug the table and yack: telling stories is the next best thing to writing them or reading them. And, in case you are waiting for a recipe, this is how I made the salsa.

Fresh Peach, Plum and Corn Salsa:

Chop 2 medium plums and 1 yellow peach into bite-sized pieces. Place in a medium-sized bowl.

Squeeze juice of 1 lime over the fruit.

Lightly steam two ears of corn and cut the corn from the cobs. Add corn to bowl.

Chop half a bunch of cilantro into mixture

Finely dice a small red onion. Add to bowl.

Cut 1 jalapeno pepper in half. Discard half of the ribs and seeds, reserving the other half. Mince the reserved ribs, seeds and jalapeno flesh. Mix thoroughly and allow several hours for the flavors to blend.

Food notes: I used Santa Rosa plums, a yellow peach and two ears of yellow corn, but you can use any plums, peaches or corn that you like. If jalapenos are too hot for you, discard all of the ribs and seeds before using and up the quantities of fruit and corn. If you freak out at cilantro or are allergic to it, substitute mint or fresh basil. And, of course, you can make it more acid by using more lime, more piquant with more onion. It would be delicious in a corn and cheese quesadilla or served alongside grilled chicken or fish. The original recipe calls for cumin, which I love — I just forgot to put it in this time.

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