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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Baking Up Some Happy Mail

It’s blueberry season and all I want to do is bake a pie. But I can’t.

Bowl of summer blueberries

Not because it’s too hot to bake, I just don’t want to heat it up to 350º (or 375º or 400º) since a stupid mouse wiggled its way into my stove, couldn’t wiggle back out, and died! I have taken the stove as apart as I am capable of, but cannot find the darn carcass. Since a service call would probably cost more than the stove is worth I’m trying to figure out what my options are. Trust me when I say roasted mouse is not an enjoyable aroma.

So instead of baking up some of summer’s bounty I’ve been making a load of non-baked happy mail. It requires a glue gun, but no oven. The genius behind these mailable treats is Sandra Denneler over at sheknows, and so far this summer I’ve made a whole bunch of popsicle postcards, ice-cream sandwich postcards and one fabulous watermelon mailing package. Basically I’d say just follow the links to Sandra’s instructions and you should be fine. My tweaks to her “recipes” are below.

Cool Summer Happy Mail

Popsicle postcard happy mail Continue reading

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Twisting Together – Blueberry Corn Muffins

It started with a dry wall screw in my tire.

The cause of my low tire pressure warning light

Actually let me back up. This recipe really started with me getting in my car the other day to go grocery shopping then seeing a light on the dashboard I hadn’t seen before. Some weird symbol I had to flip through my owner’s manual to figure out – which turned out to mean low tire pressure. And even though my car is computer enough to tell me that salient fact, it isn’t clever enough to tell me which tire. So I drove to the grocery store via our favorite garage – Fisher’s. They were able to figure out which tire it was, and my mechanic Jeff was able to take care of it right away, but he needed 20-30 minutes.

low tire pressure light

So I trotted across the street to Jerry’s Place, another South Deerfield institution and ordered a grilled blueberry muffin. They split a blueberry muffin in half, slather it with butter, grill it till it’s crispy golden, then top off with more butter and pop it on a plate. You can watch the butter melt into the hot muffin and know, just know, that it will be delicious. Which it was. However as I sat there nibbling bites of my muffin I thought of how I could ramp up this concept. Add a little more tooth to it.

Blueberry corn muffins for breakfast

Which is when Davis Bates came to mind. Bates is a brilliant storyteller who the kids and I would often go to see at various events, most often libraries, where he was performing. We bought his cassette tape to listen to on car rides (and what trip isn’t a car ride when you live in Whately?) and we listened and listened and listened to that tape so much and so often we finally wore it out. His stories are wonderful; and Russell, Isabelle and I could, and probably still can, speak his monologues right along with him. So what I recalled as I sat there munching on my blueberry muffin was Davis & Gramp Bates eating corn muffins up in Maine.

“I liked going for walks with my grandfather. Sometimes we’d get up early in the morning, before my parents were awake, and we’d walk down to Gilbert Brother’s Wharf and have some muffins. Corn muffins or bran muffins. Gramp would have a cup of coffee. Then we’d come back and have breakfast.”

Continue reading

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Keeping Things Cool

My sister is a very wise person. She is kind and funny and thoughtful and tries hard to live her life in a way which honors and celebrates all of those things. A few summers ago she taught me about this person who lives inside of me. Her name is Judy Judger. Judy is not kind, in fact I’d say she’s the queen of snark. Judy pops out especially when I am in someone else’s kitchen or home and she whispers things to me like, “Can you believe these people don’t have any books in their house? That’s just creepy, a house with no books.” Or she’ll snicker, “Oh my gosh, look at this kitchen they don’t even have a _______. How are you supposed to make meals without a ______?” Yeah, Judy is a bee-otch with a capital B.

Ever since Heather made me aware of Judy Judger I’ve kept a close eye on her. She is not to be trusted. That said, sometimes the things Judy says are frankly the bald, honest truth. And I find myself wanting to listen, wanting to voice her comments out loud. Bad Judy. Bad, bad Judy.

Since I’ve been paid to cook since I was 13 and I fell in love with cooking long before that,  it is safe to say I’ve been in a lot of kitchens, more than most people. Everyone sets them up differently and has a different definition of what is essential. There actually are a few items which it’s hard to do without. A knife, a large pot, a sauté pan. I could go on, and while it would perhaps be interesting to see what my list of essentials are, especially with two kids who will soon graduate from college and be setting up their own apartments, today’s post is not about the full list rather focusing on one of the items on said list. Below there are a few links to some food writers listing what they consider essential and I invite you to take a look.

Cooling almond clementine cake

Anyhoo, this past weekend I was out of town and I thought I’d make my niece and nephews an Easter surprise, which would then be waiting for them in the freezer the next time they visited the apartment I stayed in. I brought all the ingredients, including a cake pan and parchment paper. What I didn’t think to pack, since I figured everyone had one, was a cooling rack. Queue Judy. “What the heck! How does a kitchen not have a cooling rack?” she snipped in my ear as I rummaged through every cupboard sure there had to be one somewhere. Apparently to some folks a wire cooling rack is not an essential item. Continue reading

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Clementine Cake …. Again

Sometimes you can’t stop thinking about someone, which might be labeled as passionate, obsessive, or in the worst case scenario, as stalker-ish behavior. If that’s how we think of person fixating on another person, what do we call someone who can’t stop thinking about a recipe? More specifically a cake. Obsessive, compulsive, maybe even a little dessert crazy? Whatever you call it, let’s admit it isn’t completely normal. Which pretty much describes me for the last few weeks, making the Clementine Almond Cake again, and again, and again.

If you read about the Clementine Almond cake last month and had your fill then you may want to stop reading now. Or pop over and enjoy some other food blogs like Molly Yeh or Sara & Hugh Forte or Beth Kirby. Of course if you want to follow me down the rabbit hole come along…

One of the things I wondered about with this recipe is the almond flour. I started with Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, which while yielding delicious results, was rather pricy (in my opinion) at $13/pound. In the weeks I’ve been testing and retesting this recipe Stop N Shop has the almond meal/flour on sale for $10/pound. Trader Joe’s has a version of almond flour with the skin still on which goes for around $6/pound. The skin off version is more delicate in both taste and looks, but the question remains if it is worth nearly twice the price?

Clementine Almond Cake with and without skin in the almond flour

According to two out of my three taste-testers (Dan our plumber, Bill our neighbor and Shawn) Continue reading

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Hit or Miss Valentine

Consistency is not my middle name, at least not when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I make cards, often I don’t. Occasionally I’ll bake up dozens of sugar cookie hearts and elaborately decorate them à la Martha Stewart with enough red food dye to make your teeth pink for days. Then the following year(s) I find I can’t be bothered to dig out my heart-shaped cookie cutters, let alone root around in the basement for my box of food dyes. I feel like I’m the poster child for a hit or miss Valentine gal.

Anatomical knitted heart by Hilary Zaloom

My friends are not like me. They actually plan ahead for Valentine’s Day. Hilary’s Vday imagination seems to know no bounds and each year sees her creating something more fantastic than the year before from an anatomically correct knitted heart to  sculpted love token molded from the red wax covering babybel cheeses. Diane’s family celebrates with a meal of red & pink foods. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends goes to an annual Valentine card making party where dozens of people drink hot chocolate and eat fun food while chatting and crafting Vday cards like maniacs. Perhaps I need to wrangle myself an invitation to that soirée. Even Julia Child and her husband Paul sent out Valentine cards instead of Christmas greetings, well they did that because they couldn’t get it together in December, but still.

Valentine's Day card of Julia and Paul Child

This year I found the cake – a glorious cake – with which all Valentine’s Days (and many other days of the year) should be celebrated. It’s path to my oven came by way of Jessica last week on knitting night that she had found in the New York Times, which purports to be an old Sephardic recipe John Willougby got from Ruth Levy who had the cake made for her by a woman named Dawn Datso. Got that? Continue reading

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How Do You Relax?

The other day someone asked me what I did to relax. It’s an interesting question since what I do to relax and recharge might be someone else’s idea of landing in the seventh circle of purgatory with the flames turned on high. Still I was the one being asked the question so here are my answers:

There’s a fair amount of fluidity to what is on or off my relaxation list at any given time, though cooking and reading have pretty consistently had a spot. There’s a chance that some things may make a comeback (beekeeping), while others will decidedly stay in the past tense (running, macramé and reupholstery). It’s my list, so don’t judge.

My latest knitting project

 

While cooking is at the top of my list, I realized it didn’t have to be my cooking. I am truly tickled when someone else cooks for me. It’s honestly such a treat, and it happened last night. My husband made us a pot of his Kielbasa Stew to take the chill off.

Warm up with a big pot of Kielbasa Stew

Shawn’s been making this dish for me since we first started courting over twenty-two years ago. The first time was probably during the blizzard just after we met. While this stew is never the same, it is always delicious. Simple, straightforward food for a cold winter’s night. Serve with a game of backgammon and it’s sure to be a relaxing evening. Continue reading

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