Category Archives: 50 Recipes

Shaping by Hand

Of all the cookie recipes I’ve baked one of my favorites is Homemade Fig Newtons. Perhaps it is the gooey fig center of dried figs moistened with fresh orange juice. Or maybe I can’t resist the little pastry wings that bake onto the edges of these homemade Fig Newtons. It could be the satisfaction of making something you typically buy, but which has the bonus of tasting even better than the store-bought version. Or simply the alchemy of nostalgia mixed with butter, sugar and figs.  However you slice it up, this recipe should definitely be in your recipe box, filed under Yummy.

Homemade Fig Newtons

Since I tend to make these cookies pretty often there are many opportunities to reflect on this recipe. One time,  just as I was about to put the pureed fig filling into the pastry bag, I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this?” Don’t get me wrong I am a huge fan of pastry bags, but did this particular filling really need to be piped? The answer is no. I got out the best kitchen tools I have – my hands – and ran them under cold water so they were damp, then gently molded the fig filling into a log. It took less than two minutes. With the dough rolled out on the parchment paper I was able to fill and fold each fig newton log in seconds flat. The added bonus was there was no remaining fig paste stuck inside the pastry bag.

Moist fig paste for homemade fig newtons

Another change I made was to roll out enough dough for one log on a sheet of parchment. Doing it this way allowed me to use the parchment to fold the dough around the fig paste. I could probably have made a slightly narrower sheet of dough, but you should get the idea from the gif below.

Lastly I am going to admit to a rather serious character flaw – I seem to only be able to cook for a multitude. This flaw is actually a great one to have if you happen to have a couple of twenty-somethings living under your roof (which I do). Or are going to a party. Or need to gain twenty pounds (which no one I know does). But I will admit my friends and family are right, I make waaaaay too much food most of the time. So in an attempt to modify this excessive culinary behavior here is a smaller version of my Homemade Fig Newton recipe. You won’t have a mountain of Fig Newtons, you’ll have plenty. My recommendation is to have lots of cold milk on hand.

Homemade Fig Newtons


1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling out

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1  1/4 sticks)

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

1 egg

2+ teaspoons vanilla

Zest of one large oranges


1 pounds dried figs (black or white or a combination)

1/2 cup fresh orange juice, extra water if figs are dry

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. Scoop the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a log, and refrigerate for at least 2-24 hours. Longer is better since this is a very soft dough.

Combine the figs and juice in a medium saucepan. If you don’t have quite enough juice for the full cup you can top it off with a bit of water. Bring the juice to a boil, cover, and turn to temperature to very low, simmering for about 8-12 minutes. When the liquid has almost completely evaporated turn off the heat and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the figs and any remaining juice to a food processor and pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. If things are too dry add a smidge of water. You want paste, not soup and not cement.

The filling mixture has to cool completely before you put it in the dough or it will soften the dough too much before baking. Scrape the fig paste in a glass bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Move oven racks so they divide space into thirds. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place 1/2 of the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper which has been sprinkled liberally with flour. Sprinkle more flour on top and roll into a long skinny rectangle, about 7” x 18”. You’ll want to move the dough every so often and perhaps re-flour to keep it from sticking to the parchment.

Form 1/2 of fig paste filling into a log and place near the middle of the dough rectangle. Wrap the dough gently over the filling by moving it with the parchment paper up and over the filling, one side at a time. Flip the Fig Newton roll over so the seam side is touching the parchment. Since this amount is slightly longer than in the original recipe you may need to either place the log on the diagonal or cut it in half, leaving a decent amount of space between each half on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and fig paste. If the weather is hot you can slide the baking sheet and unbaked logs into the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Cook both logs at the same time, rotating shelves (top to bottom) and giving each sheet a 180º spin midway through. Bake 18-22 minutes on each rotation (40+ minutes total) or until cookies are just browning along the edges. Don’t forget to flip and spin the cookie sheets half way through the baking process.

After letting the fig logs cool slightly (4-10 minutes) gently slice them into cookies with a serrated knife using a sawing motion. You may need to clean the blade of fig filling every so often. Let cool, then store in an air tight dry container. Makes 30-40 depending on how wide you cut them.

Common fig from the New York Public Library

Slices of homemade fig newtons

Russell helped me gif-ify the process on gfycat – thanks Russ!

Drawing of Fico rubado (common fig) courtesy of the New York Public Library digital collection.

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My Favorite Shared Meal & Give Away

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means tonight was my favorite church service of the year – probably due in large part to the fact it involves a shared meal.

Maundy Thursday service

Several years ago our rector started a Maundy Thursday service she called a Journey to Cavalry. We begin outside the church and “travel” inside, stopping for hand washing (I know foot washing is traditional, but…), followed by an agape meal, the eucharist, and finally ending up in the “Garden of Gethsemane” which has been set up in the parlors. Different members of the congregation take turns in the garden, praying and staying up all night.

Agape meal

When we started this tradition the agape meal consisted of us milling around a small table sharing the food with each other. We still share the food, however as the service has grown we’ve added tables down the center isle of the church and more radiating into the transepts. Various parishioners provide the colorful tablecloths and china, and this year my husband added dozens of red oak candle holders which he made. We filled the candle holders with votives and candles left over from All Saints day and the midnight Christmas mass. Remembering, reusing, recycling, followed by rejoicing on Easter Sunday.

For those of you who have not been to an agape meal it is a shared feast, connected to, but separate from the eucharist. Ours features grapes, cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, olives, matzoh, pita, and hummus. While most of the items are simply purchased at the store this year I made a  big batch of Molly Yeh’s hummus. The chick peas simmered as I sanded the edges of the candle holders. After loading up the car with bowls, candle holders, and groceries I popped back into the kitchen to finish the hummus. It’s ridiculously easy – once you’ve drained the warm chick peas, they get zapped in the food processor with tahini, fresh lemon juice, salt, and some water. A few minutes later the hummus is ready for a drizzle of olive oil and some sprinkled parsley. Then comes the hardest part – you have to pack up the warm hummus. I know you’re quirking your eyebrow. Trust me – if you’ve never had warm, homemade hummus you won’t understand, but I can tell you it is the best thing ever and now you know!

Homemade hummus

Yeh serves her warm hummus with pita, which I wrote about here. I agree warm hummus and fresh pita are a dynamic duo, but it’s also pretty great just by the spoonful!

Maundy Thursday Hummus

1 cup chick peas, soaked overnight*

Generous pinch of baking soda

1/3 cup tahini

1-2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 + teaspoons salt

3-6 Tablespoons cold water

Olive oil (optional)

Chopped parsley (optional)

Drain the soaked chick peas and cover them  in cold water by 3-4 inches. Add the baking soda and bring to a boil. Once they are rolling along you may need to skim off any foam that rises to the top. I usually drop them down to a simmer at this point. It will take 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours for them to soften depending on your stove and chick peas.

Drain off the cooking liquid and place them into a food processor, along with the tahini, lemon juice, salt and some of the cold water. Zap until smooth 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

*If you forget to soak the chick peas you’ll just need to boil them a bit longer.

Red Oak Candle Holder Give Away

Red oak candle holders

What's left after drilling 100 candle holders

WorkableWoods red oak candle holder

Shawn made loads of the red oak candle holders so we thought it would be nice to give away a pair. To enter simply leave a comment about hummus or your favorite shared meal or just say “I’m in” in the comment section below by midnight April 17th EST (comments on my social media sites don’t count). We’ll pick one winner at random.

Easter flowers

This delightful flower arrangement outside the doors of St. John’s was done by Susan Roy.

Wishing you all a joyous Easter or Passover or Spring!


Update: Congratulations to Sue K. who is the lucky winner of the red oak candle holders!


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Not Too Sweet

Hilary and Missy knitting

The women in my knitting group have something in common besides knitting. They all follow a gluten free diet. Which makes me the odd duck of the group, wheat eater that I am. So once a month I try to come up with a yummy GF recipe. Not that our endless cups of tea, comradery, and gentle clicking of needles needs much sweetening, but it’s an excuse to explore new recipes. Besides my friends are a willing group of guinea pigs taste testers.

If you’ve read this blog before you know the idea behind it are the stories of how I came across/found/or was given each recipe. A large part of the fun is about the route I took to get the recipe. A map as it were, between biting into something delicious and where I was before I even knew I wanted to bite into that morsel of food in the first place. This tracing of a recipe back to its source is intriguing for me – especially when it comes to the interweb and folks I’ve never met.

Occaionally Eggs gluten free chocolate cookies

Vanilla and Bean chocolate cookies

Here’s the “map” for these cookies. I first saw them on Alexandra’s Occasionally Eggs Instagram feed (top chocolate heart photo). They looked so good I wanted to reach through my phone screen and grab a few cookies to munch on right then and there. Alexandra mentioned she’d found the recipe on Traci’s blog/Instagram feed Vanilla and Bean (bottom chocolate heart photo). Alexandra had adapted the recipe using gluten free “flour” and coconut sugar in place of brown sugar and all-purpose flour. I was already loving the synergy of these chocolate cookie hearts across Instagram, and since I had some of the ingredients in my pantry, when knitting night was approaching earlier this month I made a batch. And let me tell you they were a hit.Snowy chairGluten free chocolate cookies with powdered sugar

Snowy deck

Snowy powdered sugar on vegan gluten free chocolate cookies

A few days after my first batch, March did what it so often does in New England – it snowed. A lot. Seeing the patterns the snow made on our deck, and also on my favorite wooden chair, made me re-think the shape of the cookies, at least for now. These days I cut strips, then when they’ve cooled I dust them with powdered sugar. They remind me of the snowy slats of my deck. And guess what –tomorrow we’re supposed to get another 5 – 11″ of snow!

Chocolate cookie dough - a bit different from the usual cookie dough

Before you head off to the kitchen I need to be straight up with you – this is an unique recipe. The first thing it tells you to do is to hydrate the sugar. I’d run across recipes where you let the flour rest, batters which needed to be chilled, but never in the 40+ years of baking I’ve done have I run across a recipe for hydrating sugar. Of course now that I’ve said that I’ll get comments telling me about dozens of recipes that call for sugar hydration, because after all what do I know? The dough (GF or regular) has an odd consistency when you initially make it, especially when compared to other cookie doughs. The all-purpose flour version has the consistency of brownie batter (right photo), while the gluten free version (left photo) feels more like chocolate play-do when you first mix everything together. You’ve been forewarned and so won’t be tempted to “add a little bit more flour.” Follow the recipe and you’ll be fine.

GF vegan chocolate cookies

Another note – due to the moistness of the dough you’ll be tempted to sprinkle a lot of additional flour, which ever kind you use, onto your rolling pin and counter. Don’t. See photo above where I used a bit of GF flour to keep the dough from sticking – it made it too dry. Instead put the dough between two sheet of plastic wrap and roll out, flipping every so often and peeling the plastic wrap off the surface of the dough. Once you’ve rolled it thin and cut out your cookies you’ll want to refridgerate it some more to firm back up prior to baking.

One of the knitters thought these cookies seemed to be a yummy gluten-free, vegan version of those chocolatey Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers used for Zebra Cake or Peppermint Zebra Cake. A variation to try the next time I buy heavy cream.

Intensely Chocolate Wafer Cookies

1/2 cup coconut or light brown sugar

3 Tablespoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup cocoa (I like Valrhona)

3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I used cup4cup) or all-purpose flour

1/2 Tablespoon corn starch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Powdered sugar for decorating (optional)

In a medium sized bowl mix the coconut or brown sugar with the melted coconut oil, vanilla and water. Sift the GF or all-purpose flour , cocoa, corn starch and salt over the sugar mixture and stir until incorporated. As I mentioned above the mixture will be rather soft/loose. Do not add additional flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate 2 hours or more.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Move the racks in your oven so they’re spaced in thirds.

Place the dough between two large pieces of plastic wrap and gently roll into 1/4″ thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. If the dough is very soft pop the cookie sheet into the fridge for 14-20 minutes to firm up again. Continue re-rolling the remaining dough unless it’s too soft, in which case wrap and refriderate it again.

Bake cookies 20-22 minutes, switching the cookie sheet from top to bottom at the mid way point as well as rotating it 180º. It is hard to determine when these cookies are done since they are so dark you can’t see when they brown on the edges. I like them crispy so I tend to bake them a wee bit longer. If you don’t want them crunchy you can bake slightly less. The size and shape you cut the dough into may also affect baking times.

Cool on a cookie rack and store in air tight containers. To serve sprinkle with powdered sugar.

After showering cookies with powdered sugar


Chocolate heart cookies courtesy of OccasionallyEggs
Chocolate heart cookies and rolled dough courtesy of Vanilla and Bean
All others photos Cynthia Allen


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Pita Bread – Puffy and Flat

Not winter; not spring

Last fall when I got my hands on two new cookbooks Soframiz and Molly on the Range, I was cooking out of both non-stop. Unfortunately the family (myself included) was eating the various recipes faster than I could whip out my iPhone. Everything was just too good. As winter is playing her pre-spring dance with us – where one day it is 16° and you need to dig through the mitten box to find scarves, hats and gloves, but the next day can be 50°, followed by an ice storm where you don’t want to leave the house at all – it’s an excellent time of year to cook and camera. I’m planning on remaking some of our favorites and taking pictures this time.

Molly on the Range and Soframiz cookbooks

I acquired both cookbooks within a week of each other, which of course lead to comparing them. Interesting to note all the recipes they had in common – homemade hummus, meat to top off aforementioned hummus, pita bread, za’atar bread, and pistachio cake. Flipping through the pages, reading the recipes and looking at the pictures was a pavlovian exercise at best. Flip, flip, drool. Then repeat.

Hummus with meat, morrocan carrots, greens and pita

The hummuses (is that the plural of hummus?) were the first dish I made since I’d never before bothered to make my own. With so many choices at the grocery store why bother I said to myself? The answer is simple – warm hummus. Honestly it is dreamy, something you should definitely try at least once in your lifetime.  As an accompaniment for the hummus, though not an afterthought, there is fresh pita bread.

Pillow pita

Moist dough

Pita bread cut into 2 ounce pieces ready to roll

Second rising

Pita bread you say? Yes, pita bread. I’d eaten the Soframiz pita when I visited Sofra, and so was familiar with their non-traditional, slightly golden puff balls, which Sortun and Kilpatrick describe as “puffy pillows”. Yeh makes a more traditional pita which she describes as,

“A thick, fluffy disk of warm bread that would make the ultimate sleeping bag if ever we entered real-life Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.

Puffy pillows or the ultimate sleeping bag – the truth is you probably want to make both. And if you can’t stop eating the pita bread, like I couldn’t,  you may also want need to take a nap. You’re probably thinking I’m nuts to want to bake something so readily available in every grocery store across the country, but trust me it’s worth making a batch or two of pita yourself. It’s not at all difficult and the results are delightful.

Pita pocket bread

Both recipes are pretty close to one another. Here are the very minor tweaks/choices I made:

  • I kneaded the dough by hand instead of using a stand mixer.
  • As a former beekeeper I chose honey as the sweetener to help proof the yeast.
  • I liked the suggestion of substituting some whole wheat flour in place of the white flour.
  • My hubby preferred all-purpose pita to bread flour pita. I couldn’t really tell the difference, but know they’re both good.
  • Perhaps because it is more or less still winter, and thus rather chilly most days, my rising times were much longer.
  • Oven temperatures were listed at 400° or 500°, choose according to how clean your oven is.

Pita Two Ways

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1-2 Tablespoons honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

In a large bowl mix together the water, honey and yeast. Give it a stir then let sit until the yeast starts foaming up to the top, around five minutes.

Add two cups of flour, stirring to make a loose, wet dough. Add the salt and then most, but not all, of the olive oil. It’s important to add the salt after you’ve added some of the flour so the salt doesn’t kill the newly activated yeast.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining flour on your counter and dump out the wet dough and start kneading. Sprinkle the rest of the flour out and continue kneading till it has all been absorbed into the dough and the dough is soft and perhaps a wee bit sticky, about 5-7 minutes. Try not to be tempted to add more flour, since you want a slightly sticky, moist dough. Pour the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil in the bowl you started with,  and roll the dough ball around so it’s lightly covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let dough rise until double, 2-3 hours.

Punch down the dough, then on a lightly floured work surface knead once or twice. Cut into 12 pieces. I ended up using a kitchen scale and the chunks weighed just a smidge over 2 ounces each. Then using your cupped hand-roll roll each chunk of dough so it forms a small ball. I think of my hand as a five-legged daddy-longlegs spider dancing around the dough. Once the dough has been formed into balls set them on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, sprinkle them with a whisper of flour and cover with another piece of parchment, and set aside to rest – about an hour.

Preheat oven to 500°F if it is clean and won’t smoke, or 400°F it it isn’t spotless. For the pillowy version gently transfer the balls of dough to a parchment covered baking sheet and bake 7-12 minutes until slightly browned on the bottom. For the traditional pita version (where there is a pocket)* gently flatten the balls with a rolling pin or pat down with your hands and let rest another 10-20 minutes, then bake on parchment covered baking sheets 7-10 minutes or until you see them pop-up like a balloon, then settle down as they cool, which forms the traditional space you can stuff things into. Serve straight away, or cool on a rack then store in a plastic bag.

*After much experimenting I’ve found the traditional pita with a pocket really does benefit from a hot, hot oven. So if you’re oven is going to smoke at 500°F consider making the pillowy version.

Note: this bread doesn’t last for a long time so if you’re not going to eat it all in a few days wrap and freeze.

Pita with pesto

I love both versions for scooping up hummus or topping with heaping spoonfuls of Moroccan Carrot Purée. Shawn enjoyed them slathered with pesto. Homemade pita bread is also the perfect base for a chocolate hazelnut spread sandwich. Especially when the pita is still warm. Decadent & delightful. Of course you may want to take a walk (or a nap) after munching all this deliciousness.

Chocolate hazelnut spread on homemade pita bread

Brook along Grass Hill Road


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Setters & Spotters

Our son Russell was a bit of a trend setter at his Montessori School. During the winter months he didn’t want to stop wearing his favorite short-sleeved tee shirts so he simply layered them over turtlenecks or long-sleeved tops. More than one mother came up to me came up on the playground during pick up time to moan about how their kid insisted on dressing just like Russell (which given the winters in New England seemed like a good thing so I was unclear what all the moaning was all about). Then there was a “unicorn horn” phase, which is where he made a ponytail from his bangs and give this tuft of hair the illusion of being more horn-like he gloped on copious amounts of hair gel (there were not too many copy cats for that trend). He really knew how to rock the mix and match look as you can see below, I’m sure you’ll agree the dinosaur tie is an inspired addition. My son’s personal style was unique and a perfect reflection of who he was. Sometimes I wished I was as self-assured as he was when it came to wearing clothes.Russells favorite mix and match outfitMy Mom likes to tell me I too had some trendy moments in my youth, though they were more focused on food. Thinking back it seems totally logical. Julia Child had opened culinary doors in the 1960s so that by the time I was a teenager, busily taking every home ec course offered at my high school, all sorts of foods were starting to appear in restaurants, cookbooks, some of the more upscale grocery stores, and on TV. Looking back I realize I wasn’t a trend setter like Russell, but rather a trend spotter. Which makes complete sense since my hyper focus on food and cooking allowed me to know when something new, exciting or different was happening. One of the advantages of middle age is that, much like a five-year-old, you really don’t have to give two figs for what other people think, which leaves you wide open to follow your own path – starting a trend, finding one to follow, or merrily pursuing your own non-trendy path. Your choice.Cauliflower on cutting board Though I have practically no interest in current food trends, it doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what they are. In case you were wondering cauliflower is the trendy vegetable of 2017 (bye-bye kale and brussel sprouts). Continue reading


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Dashing Through The Snow

It’s December 31st and I’m pretty sure I won’t be awake when 2017 rolls in.

Which is just fine.

Vintage noisemakers from Caldwell's Miscellaneous Fancy Goods

My strategy this holiday season had been to do as much ahead of time as I could manage, though this strategy backfired somewhat. I was trying to address the Christmas shopping preemptively – finding the perfect thing, then hiding it away. One of the problems with this strategy was that when I started pulling out my various stashes of goodies I found I’d gone rather overboard. I guess I should have kept a list. Plus there were a few things I just know I safely put away but have yet to be found. Apparently my efforts to be organized meant that I had turned into the human equivalent of a squirrel.

Then there were the cookies. It felt like I’d gotten a nice jump-start on making Christmas cookies and baked plenty to last through the holidays. The thing is when you bake lots, and lots, and lots of cookies the question you should be asking yourself is,

“Are there ever enough Christmas cookies?”

Because the answer is no. You may see box upon box of buttery, sugary holiday cheer and think there is a glut, but trust me there isn’t. Nineteen-year-olds, the friends you want to give “a little something” to, the cookie tithe you pay to your sister for borrowing her Kitchen Aide mixer yet another year, and to be perfectly honest your own sassy self – all those factors add up fast. The perceived hoards of cookies disappear quicker than you can say Jack Brownie.

So enough with doing things ahead of time! It’s New Year’s eve and I’m going to live in the moment (or at least try to). Which means I’ll only think about what can get done today. Snow shoveling, a quick trip to the post office and transfer station, then baking up Rick’s Turkey Meatloaf.

Turkey meatloaf dinner

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Easy Italian Plum Cake

Sometimes things don’t have to be complicated.

Like chores. With our youngest going to college locally this semester household chores somehow got into a boondoggle. Then came the chore wheel and the quagmire of who was supposed to do what evaporated as the house settled into a clean (or as clean as we get) routine. I got a chuckle when I realized that every time MOM (i.e. me) was on dump duty or bathroom cleaning I was WOW. I love the fact that being upside down makes me wow!

Chore wheel

Another thing that isn’t too complicated is getting our dog Oliver to come back into the house after chasing bunny rabbits. Just open the back door and yell, “Steak” and he comes dashing. It works because he is a very clever Jack Russell Terrier, who has a formidable understanding of the english language. So much so that we’ve gotten into the habit of spelling, rather than saying, certain words. A friend cautioned us against making him food-centric, but I’ve found it very helpful over the years, especially owning a breed of dog who thinks about whether or not he wants to obey. Plus it costs us nothing. I simply cut up the scraps leftover from any meat dinner we have and pop those morsels into a bag we store in the freezer. Oliver knows he’ll get a frozen tidbit if he comes running at the “S” word.

Oliver coming home for steak

This week I was tickled to come across the most un-complicated cake ever. One of those oh so simple recipes that I somehow missed when Marian Burros first published it in the NYT thirty plus years ago, but which thankfully circled around and around, ultimately finding me again through a news feed. If you have the ingredients on hand you can pop it into the oven in less than ten minutes. An hour later you have the perfect Friday afternoon plum tea cake. Which can then morph into Saturday morning breakfast before you head out to the Farmer’s Market. Or turn into a late night snack as you finish your homework.

Fresh out of the oven italian plum cake Continue reading


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