I’m not a big cake baker and certainly not much of a cake eater, but lately I find myself working on cakes. There are probably a few reasons but one is the number of impressive cakes posted on Dorie Greenspan’s engaging and active facebook group, BAKE AND TELL. Some of these folks bake their kids’ favorite chocolate birthday cake (more my speed) and others create pastry visions (think marzipan) unseen at many professional bakeries. Yikes. But it’s all fun and there’s lots of learning and togetherness– the internet at its best. Another thing going through my mind has been finding a cake my good friend Tony can eat and still stay on his healthy regime, which means no white flour, no dairy, and not much sugar. (I’m nearly there on that one; a pan of cake with his name on it is in the freezer for the next time we play Pinochle. We’ll see what he thinks.) This last Sunday, I woke early to drink coffee and exercise (I know–me?!) and saw a few cartons of sorta sad-lookin’ berries (Poor babies.) in the fridge when I got the milk. There was also a container of ricotta — couldn’t even remember what I’d needed that for, but it passed the sniff test. What could I make with berries and ricotta? Well, folks, that’s what Google’s for, isn’t it? Up came Ina Garten’s“Blueberry Ricotta Breakfast Cake.” Luckily I have the book it’s in (Go-To Dinners) and read it through twice thinking about how Alyce would make and bake this cake. And here’s what happened; I changed it as I went along…
When Easter is on its hippity-hoppity way, I often research and make some scrumptious Easter bread if only because there are so very many and they’re all so individually addictive. Once or twice, I’ve looked for a Scots version (as some of my folk come from Scotland), only to be disappointed because there really isn’t a Scots Easter bread unless you include Hot Cross Buns, which I guess you could in a pinch. (I think Hot Cross Buns are more Good Friday-ish. By the way, I made Nigella’s scrumptious version this year with a few easy twists I’ll share next Lent.) Last Sunday morning, I woke feeling a little sorry for myself –for both me the baker and me the Scot. Until I realized just WHY the Scots have no Easter bread. Who needs Easter bread when you’ve got God’s perfect bread — scones — hither, thither, and yon? (FUN FACT: Most folks in Scotland pronounce the word scone to rhyme with our pronunciation of the word done, by the way. So that’s skuhn to you and me!)
It came without warning. All of a sudden it was the end of June. It was nearly the 4th of July. Dave and I were both off by about a week and had no idea why. This man’s birthday is July 3 and yesterday he said to me, when I asked about a birthday dinner reservation, “What? Is my birthday this weekend??” Why, yes it is!
In the meantime, I’d been working on a risotto post for the blog. Having a fun old time making the risotto, finding the dishes, taking the photos, writing the text and recipe and so on. Except I had nothing for the immediate holiday. Necessity is the mother of disaster sometimes, but hopefully not here. (Watch this space for the risotto love coming up next week or maybe even the week after.)
If you live in Colorado, the weather is often the topic of conversation. Like now. The rest of the country is looking forward to a warm Labor Day holiday weekend and, while we in Colorado are sort of doing the same, we also have our eyes stuck on the forecast for Monday night and Tuesday:
More’s the pity, I haven’t an Italian bone in my body — unless drinking a lot of Chianti counts? But I love to cook Italian food and nothing makes this baker’s heart sing like making a crostata for dessert. A crows-TAH-tah (plural: crostate) is a freeform pie — no pie or tart pan necessary — and, filled with jam, is often the homemade dessert of choice in an Italian kitchen. There is occasionally a lattice pastry top, though not often. The French word for such a pie is a gallette and the two terms are often used interchangeably here in the states where we bake this pie full of whatever fruit happens to be ripe and in good supply. I’ve taught crostate making in both my Italian Christmas Day Dinner Class and in one-on-one pie classes. Without exception, everyone who makes it loves the finished product and feels terribly accomplished because who doesn’t like to look at and eat pie?
Sunday, February 23, 2020 is NATIONAL BANANA BREAD DAY. I had no clue, but you know there’s a day for everything. I’d love you to make my loaf to celebrate the — uh-hem — holiday, but I’ll be totally happy if you make it tomorrow or even the next day, too. The original version of the famous Kona Inn Banana Breadhas been a star in my baking repertoire for at least 35 years. Sure there’ve been other banana breads I’ve cheated with and lots of other sweet quick breads….but this is the one that has passed the test of time and feels like the world standard–at least at my house. The recipe for my bread came from THE FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK by Marion Cunningham, one of my go-to basic baking books in 1985, 2020, and all the years in between. (The book’s out of print, but there are used copies available. Don’t hesitate if you like to bake.) These days, you can also find the recipe in several places and versions around the web, even on Epicurious or Food Network!
If you live in Colorado, you know from peaches, which are grown way out west on the western slope–almost in Utah if you check the map. Every year about this time, your friends in other states begin to mention, “Hey, I bought Colorado peaches in the store the other day!” You look in your store and you find California peaches and begin to think we’re exporting all our best produce. It happens. (I’ll give you that there are also great peaches from Georgia, Washington state, Michigan, and even California. I just live in Colorado.)
In the house where I grew up in a Chicago suburb that was situated so far south that its streets ended exactly where the tall, green and golden midwestern cornfields began, the best treasures were often in the big freezer out in the utility room. Last summer’s fish from vacations in Minnesota or Wisconsin (cleaned by yours truly), stored in tubs of water, were frozen forever just as they were…or at least until the next weekend’s fish fry. Small cartons of peaches –the ones that came in after the canning was done–might be on the door for mid-winter dessert or for topping the homemade ice cream we all took turns cranking early the following summer. The thing you really had to search for, though, as they were well-hidden from my Dad, me, and all the grandkids (you know who you are), were ice cream sandwiches made from Mom’s leftover waffles. Now I don’t know how there were ever leftover waffles, but there were. And somehow my mom managed to press vanilla ice cream between a couple of them, wrap them tightly, and hide them well until they were badly needed. You get it, right? When your whole adolescent world was falling apart or the Chicago weather had turned frightening…
I think of Violet as my loving friend Chris’s mom because that’s who she was to me. Of course Violet was VIOLET. And if you lived in Atwood, Kansas (population 1,222), you knew who that was. You knew her rather well indeed if you happened to be a member of Atwood United Methodist Church where she directed the choir, organized many church suppers, and was the leader of the Altar Guild for oh-so-many years.
As the bittersweet arrival of the last of the northwest blueberries coincideswith the happy coming of the first glorious Colorado peaches, the two together feel exactly like a match made in heaven in my kitchen on a beautiful cool morning. With just a smidge over 5 cups of beginning-to-pucker and wilt Oregon blueberries in the fridge, I had not quite enough for a 9-inch pie. A case of peaches sat wafting their keen aroma from the mudroom, so I followed my nose out there and snagged a couple of not-too-ripe beauties to peel and slice for the bottom of the pie, filling that empty extra inch of space. The buttery sweetness from the berry mixture on top would provide plenty of juicy goodness for the still somewhat tangy peaches. Making something with peaches that aren’t quite ripe or up-to-snuff? Add a pinch of ground mace to increase their flavor.