It Was the Summer of…


I am reminded by posts on Facebook about capturing the “last gasps of summer” that it is Labor Day in the US.  Here on the Mediterranean, we expect to have several more weeks of warm weather.  In fact, today, I’m just putting a hem in a pair of white pants that I plan to wear quite a bit this fall.  But mentally, it is the turn of the calendar and I, too, am feeling nostalgic for last summer.

Since the boys have been in university, our summers have had a consistent pace, but this summer, some things changed.  We aren’t pulling them off to be with us in our overseas life as much, anymore.  They have their own involvements and responsibilities, now, and they can’t just up and leave for several weeks like they used to.

This was the summer of girlfriends.  Having significant others hanging at the house with us was a completely new development, and we really liked it.  It was fascinating to watch our sons attend to women they have chosen to have in their lives,  and I was proud to see their consideration and more grown-up ease with themselves.

This was the summer of full-time jobs. Most parents, I’m sure, would agree that it is enormously satisfying to send your able-bodied young person off for a big ol’ day of work.  This was, at the same time,  the summer of baby animals.  Gabe has a real gentleman’s  farm in operation on the island.  He took in a menagerie of Craig’s List babies last spring:  lambs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks and then there is the biggest handful of them all, his beautiful preschooler dog, Geist (he just turned 1 so he’s technically not a baby anymore).  Allan and I became quite enchanted by the whole free-ranging brood and were perfectly happy to send Gabe off for a 12-hour work day in exchange for tending the animals.  I could have and now think should have taken so many more pictures of them as we watched them grow.  It was fascinating how they made choices and communicated to each other,  everyday, about where they wanted to go on the property and what they wanted to do.  They were so silly sometimes, but my heart was happy seeing them have completely natural, stimulating lives.


This was the summer of nieces.  I think the generation of my siblings and me has shifted slightly and our children are stepping up to be our friends and to provide us with authentic support.  Through this season of the passing of our mom, my nieces, in particular, came forward to not just cook and help arrange things, which they did capably and creatively, but they made us laugh and amazed us at all of their adult involvements.  I know that my mom would have been so happy to know how her passing strengthened and even changed our relationships in many wonderful ways.

Finally, this was the summer of home-town affirmations.  Allan and I have had our wonderings, over the years, if our plan to eventually repatriate back to Whatcom County will be the right choice.  We have other overseas friends who are building their retirement nests in farmhouses in France, condos in big cities, someplace warm.  We love Lummi Island, but we haven’t always been sure that we could fit back into the culture we left, now, 15 years ago.  This summer, though,  we had encounter after encounter, often by chance, with people we have known in the past, but didn’t know so much about presently.  We were astounded, first of all, by what positive lives so many old friends are pursuing.  Many have lost unneeded pounds and as a result, feel fantastic.  Many have become incredibly active, riding bicycles, taking strenuous hikes.  Many have let go of negativity and are living in grateful places.  Several have completely stopped drinking.  I found myself becoming genuinely excited thinking of living in community, in the future,  with these old friends and our Lummi Island neighbors.  Of course, lots of conversations turned toward our bounteous summer provisions in the Northwest and how we were preparing and/or preserving them.  I am really looking forward to sharing cooking when we can.  One of the cookbooks I read cover to cover this summer was Monday Morning Cooking Club, and I can picture that sort of get-together with old and new friends to learn more about and from each other and to enjoy the cooking skills so many of us have been honing these long years.

Gabel, after a Sunday of preserving. He put away 4 gallons of blackberries (slated for blackberry wine-making in the fall), 4 pints of beets, two bags of blanched beet greens, and a crock of sauerkraut, all from his own garden and yard.

One friend and I already got the conversation going when she and her husband came out to spend an evening of crab-eating, sunset watching,  and visiting with us.  Even though she had worked that day, she had, because she’s just like this, baked off a heavenly loaf of artisanal bread in the morning to bring out.  She swore that nothing could be easier than making up this no-knead bread, developed by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, and once I tried it, I became a devotee, too.  It is also a wonderful dough to form into foccacia or pizzas.   I am not going to retype the recipe.  Go to this link because you will also find some short videos that will illustrate a couple of the finer points involved in the process.  Peggy, I hope that this is the beginning of a long and delicious conversation.

Recipe: No-Knead Bread


Artisan Bread

Strawberry Lemon Curd Cake


Cake Packets

A couple of weeks ago, our community held our annual International Day and Spring Fair.  This is an extravaganza where all of our various expat groups, alongside our host country, pull out the stops on their national pride.  There is a parade of national dress and flags, and then the highlight is two gymnasiums of food tables selling servings of favorite dishes from all of our representative countries.  You can very likely end up with a plate full of injera and kim chi, with a waffle on the side.  It’s weird, but fun.

The British table this year, rather than stooping to bangers and mash, sold tiny jars of lemon curd.  You can see my now empty lemon curd jar in the photo background below,  wearing its gingham cap. Having the occasion of a school bake sale, I made a couple of loaves of this moist, flavor-intense cake.  You could use any type of fruit.  The recipe calls for blueberries, but we have strawberries, and  I can imagine it with peaches or even figs.  We’re down to the dregs of our lemon season now, but next winter, when everyone is giving away their lemons again, I will use more  juice in batches of tangy lemon curd.

Both of the following recipes are from BBC Food Recipes, the British-speak just enhancing the mood.  I didn’t ice my cakes because they were so moist and nice without it.


Lemon Curd

  • 4 lemons, zest and juice
  • 200g or 7oz caster sugar
  • 100g or 31/2 oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3 free-range eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  1. Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter into a heatproof bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture every now and again until all of the butter has melted.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk and stir them into the lemon mixture. Whisk until all of the ingredients are well combined, then leave to cook for 10-13 minutes, stirring every now and again, until the mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove the lemon curd from the heat and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally as it cools. Once cooled, spoon the lemon curd into sterilised jars and seal. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.


Lemon Curd Cake

  • 175g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 500ml tub Greek yogurt (you need 100ml/3½ fl oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 300g jar good lemon curd (you need 2 tbsp in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 3 eggs
  • zest and juice 1 lemon, plus extra zest to serve, if you like
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 200g punnet of blueberries (you need 85g/3oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 140g icing sugar
  • edible flowers, such as purple or yellow primroses, to serve (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 160C or 320F. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with a long strip of baking parchment. Put 100g yogurt, 2 tbsp lemon curd, the softened butter, eggs, lemon zest, flour and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl. Quickly mix with an electric whisk until the batter just comes together. Scrape half into the prepared tin. Weigh 85g blueberries from the punnet and sprinkle half into the tin, scrape the rest of the batter on top, then scatter the other half of the 85g berries on top. Bake for 1 hr 10 mins-1 hr 15 mins until golden, and a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.
  2. Cool in the tin, then carefully lift onto a serving plate to ice. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough lemon juice to make a thick, smooth icing. Spread over the top of the cake, then decorate with lemon zest and edible flowers, if you like. Serve in slices with extra lemon curd, Greek yogurt and blueberries.

Lemon Curd Cake, 2



I just read a scathing review of Sarah Palin’s new Christmas book, and frankly, I thought the review was more hostile than anything he claimed she wrote.  I do, however, disagree with one premise Ms. Palin frequently makes, and that is that many Americans are waging a war on Christmas every time they separate the sacred from the secular in reference to “the holidays”.    I am certainly not waging any sort of war on Christmas, but I do find it silly when people sanctify every little Christmas reference without an acknowledgement that millenia of humans have been living on this earth prior to us, and also prior to the advent of Christ, and they contributed to the lexicon of the season in ways in which we may not be aware.

Earthlings have had the security of living on a slightly tilting planet, 23.5 degrees, to be almost exact.  I call this cockeyed position secure because while the tilt creates dramatic seasonal and daylight shifts at the poles, at least it has been consistent.  Watch or read Game of Thrones to get a taste of what it would be like to have years of summer and then unpredictably, an unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or even generation, of winter.  Whether you like or dread the solstice daylight shifts, we do know that they are temporal.  We can count on the change.

Allan’s ancestors are Norse/Germanic.  The idea of Yule comes from those cultures and simply means a time of merriment.  The use of natural decorations such as trees, holly, mistletoe, and fire, later replaced by lights,  became traditions.  Circular shapes, as in the Northern European centerpiece called the Yule wreath, were made of evergreens with a candle in the center, symbolic of  the circle of the seasons with the sun in the center.

It is believed that early Christians, who were persecuted by the Romans, moved the celebration of Christ’s birth, which was probably closer to mid-April, to the winter solstice because there was already a party going on at that time, and they could gather those revelers around the celebration of Christ, building their numbers for resistance.  The symbolism of the solstice, light returning to a people in darkness, gradually became a metaphor for Christians of Christ’s message bringing joy and hope to mankind.

A carol that comes to mind is Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, in German, or the traditional English carol Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming.  Here is a verse from my favorite translation:

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender root hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

I think we can all take hope that no matter how dark our moment, it is possible to experience new growth, probably in the most unexpected places.

Snow Berries

Allan is coming home tonight.  We have been apart for five weeks, the longest time in our 30 years of marriage.  A solstice feast is being prepared that is full of symbolism for us.  There will be crab bisque made from the dungeness crab we harvested when the sun barely set last summer.  We will have some other bright flavors with the meal like a citrus salad and a tart cranberry panna cotta for dessert, and for an edible centerpiece, I’ve made this bread wreath.  Allan will be bringing the French champagne for the sparkle.

Bread 2

  It will be true yuletide, or time to celebrate, as we sit around our table together tonight.

White Candles

Bread Wreath

From Martha Stewart, November 2013


    • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and sprinkling
    • 1/2 cup rye flour
    • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
    • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
    • 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees), plus 1 cup water for baking dish


  1. Mix together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, the rye and bread flours, salt, yeast, and warm water in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. (Dough will be sticky.) Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Refrigerate dough in bowl until cold, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees, with a pizza stone or inverted rimmed baking sheet on rack in top position and a baking dish on rack in lowest position. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Knead briefly to incorporate, then form into a smooth ball. Return to bowl, cover with towel, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  3. Invert a cookie sheet, cover with parchment, and dust with all-purpose flour. Place dough in center. Poke a hole in center of dough with your thumbs and stretch it until dough measures 9 inches in diameter and hole measures 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Generously sprinkle with all-purpose flour and let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes. Using kitchen shears, cut 14 deep Vs into top of dough, going almost all of the way through. Pull points of cut Vs away from center to create 14 leaves around wreath. Let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes.
  4. In one quick motion, slide wreath on parchment onto pizza stone, then pour water into baking dish. Bake until bread is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Slide wreath on parchment onto a baking sheet, then slide wreath off parchment onto a wire rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Bread is best eaten same day it is made.

Rustic Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart

I became enamored with this tomato tart idea several years ago.  It seems to me to be an interesting substitute for the carbohydrate in a meal when you want to make something special, but also slightly rustic.  It works as beautifully with a picnic lunch of pate and salad as it does with a dinner of grilled lamb, which is what we had it with last weekend.  You have to work ahead a little to prepare the puff pastry, but if you have a batch of it in the freezer, it is pretty simple to roll it out, put on the toppings, and bake it off.  I should mention that leftover tomato tart is fabulous for breakfast the next day.

Tomato Tart

Adapted from New Zealand Cuisine, No 157 Mar 2013

For the filling

  • 250g ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 400g cherry or small tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • 250g mozzarella, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 tablespoons oregano, chives,  and basil leaves or basil flowers, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry out to about 4mm thick, keeping as circular a shape as you can.

Put the pastry on the prepared baking trays and refrigerate for 10 minutes.  Prick all over with a fork.

Put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and mix well to combine.  Spread the mixture over both pieces of pastry, leaving a 1 inch border.  Fold in the borders to form a rim.  Bake for 12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, over the tarts.  Drizzle with a little oil, then bake for a further 10 minutes.

Nestle the torn mozzarella in among the tomatoes, and bake for a further 2 minutes or until starting to melt and slightly browned.

Once removed from the oven, sprinkle with the chopped herbs, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Rough Puff-Pastry

We are prepping ourselves for the last three weeks of our school year.  I say prepping, as though we have to fortify ourselves, because these will be busy weeks with extra work in addition to many, many, many goodbye parties.  Some of these, I am hosting, and for some, I have offered to bring a dish.  We consider ourselves fortunate that we live in an active community that cares for each other, and we are happy to be part these ending rituals.

Today, my husband went golfing and then to beer-brewing lessons with a friend from school, so I essentially had the house and the day to myself.  Being an introvert to the core, a day like this gives me the time I need to think, plan, and process, so when I go out into the world, I have a together me to offer.  With the collapse of the Skagit River bridge last week and the Ski to Sea race I know will be taking place this weekend, Memorial Weekend, my mind is roaming all over Whatcom and Skagit counties, ruminating on the spectacular natural features of that area and also contemplating my place in that place for the past three decades.  I have especially taken Whatcom County into my blood.  I can mentally and emotionally touch all of the seasons and so many beautiful places and events in my memory.  I decided that since I had some time to myself, I really wanted to listen to the audio book of The Living, by Annie Dillard.   This book is a historical fiction about founding settlers on Bellingham Bay.   I have long said that this is my favorite book, but I clearly remember nursing a baby while I read it the last time.  That was 20 some years ago and it is time for another listen.  I listen to a lot of audio books so I can cook at the same time.  It is my absolute favorite way to spend a quiet afternoon;  it recharges me.

I worked on a batch of puff-pastry this afternoon.  This recipe could not be more simple, but there is a little bit, only a little, of technique to remember.  I sort of chuckle to repeat this advice because I am pretty sure you have read it before.  I know I had read for years that you must maintain sizable chunks of butter in the pastry and that everything must be kept cold throughout the process.  I thought this was a suggestion that wouldn’t make much difference one way or another  until I finally understood the reason why.  We keep pea-sized and sometimes a little larger chunks of butter in the pastry because when we pop it in a hot oven, the butter will melt, leaving air-filled pockets throughout the dough:  voila flaky pastry.  Once I finally committed to this practice, I considerably improved my batting average with making flaky pastry.

This pastry works beautifully for both savory and sweet tarts, which I will be using it for at some upcoming dinners.  I’ve got two bundles of dough now, soft as a baby’s bottom, in my freezer and it will be short work to fill them with fresh produce and bake them off at very short notice.

Rough Puff-Pastry

Makes 2 tarts, adapted from New Zealand Cuisine, No 157 Mar 2013

Before I even begin the ingredients, here is the protocol:  Freeze everything and put it back in the fridge, or even better, the freezer, between steps in the production.  In the photos below, keep your eye on the distinct hunks of butter that remain visible in the dough.


  • 250 grams flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 150 grams unsalted butter, chilled (or frozen) cubed 1cm

Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

Add the butter to the flour, separating each cube, and pulse until the mixture is just becoming large crumbs.

Butter Chunks

You still need to see pea-sized chunks of butter in the flour.  Tip on to a work surface and make a well in the center, then pour in about 100 ml ice-cold water, mixing and bringing together gently until you have a rough dough.  Do not knead.   Add a little extra water if needed.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Rough Dough

Turn the pastry on to a lightly floured board and gently knead together to form a rectangle.  Roll the dough out, in one direction only, until about 20cm x 50 cm.  Keep edges as straight and as even as possible.

First Roll

Fold the top third of the pastry down to the center, then fold the bottom third up and over the top third.

First Fold  Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out again to three times its length.  Fold as before, then wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before use.  This pastry freezes well.

Two Packets

Poppy-Seed Lavash

LavoshI think the word lavash is elegant, but also evokes the daily rituals of life in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.  In Tunisia, the baguette is our bread currency, a legacy of French colonization, but as you move farther east, fabulous flatbreads are the staff of life.  Typically baked by slapping a yeast dough against the side of an underground clay oven called a tonir, the breads have a rustic shape and brown inconsistently, giving them some chewy parts and some toasted, crisp bits.

Armenian cooking can be complicated, incorporating an array of no less than 300 types of herbs and wild flowers.  This recipe, however, simply features poppy seeds.  I recommend making up a batch of this dough when you want something to bring a meal together or give it a little heft as with soup or roasted meat and salad.  Lavash can provide that burst of toasted flavor and chewy/crispy texture to make it a satisfying meal.  It is also great as a leftover.  Turning crispy in the air, you can use it the next day with a dip or crumbled in a salad.

Poppy-Seed Lavash

Reprinted from Martha Stewart Living and Matt Dillon, chef at Sitka & Spruce in Seattle


  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour or a combination (I used 1/4 rye flour)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons course salt
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling


1.  Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat just until butter melts.  Place warm water in a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar on top, and let stand until foamy and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Whisk together flour, course salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl.  Gather mixture into a large mound and create a well in the center.  Pour milk and yeast mixtures into well.  Gradually stir together mixtures with a wooden spoon, starting in center and working outward, until a dough forms.

2.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and, with lightly floured hands, knead dough, adding more flour if necessary if dough is too sticky, until smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes.  Cover dough with a lightly floured kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until dough is doubled in size, about 2 hours.

3.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone placed on rack in lowest position, or heat a covered gas barbecue to 500 degrees.  Meanwhile, punch down dough with lightly floured hands, cover with towel, and let rise again until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Divide dough into 4 equal portions.  Working with 1 portion and keeping remaining portions covered, roll out dough as thinly as possible without tearing, about 1/8 inch thick, with a floured rolling pin.  Prick dough all over with a fork and transfer to a lightly floured pizza peel, baking sheet, or grates of gas grill.  Lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with poppy seeds and flaky salt.  Slide dough onto pizza stone and bake until dough bubbles and blisters in places and edges become crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Repeat process with 3 remaining dough portions; serve warm.

Mother Guilt

Apples 4

The term “mother guilt”  is usually associated with a mother, like the character Mom on A Prairie Home Companion, who intentionally puts a few twists on the screw of her child’s heart for the gratification of receiving, albeit grudgingly, affirmation of his love or confirmation of a visit.  I think I am talking about the reverse of that, though.  I am talking about the almost unbearable sweetness of a child who recognizes a dream of a parent and makes an effort to connect with her about it.  Whether because it has become a shared passion or just because the child knows it is significant, the connection is dear.

Ten years ago, our family bought a small farm on Lummi Island.  Our West Shore homestead came with a simple farmer’s house, 5 acres of hay, some outbuildings, and several old fruit trees.  The one pictured below is part of our family.  At least 50 years old and perhaps another half that much, this tree nearly kills itself each summer producing loads of tart, green,  softball-sized fruit.

Apple Tree

When we renovated the farm house, I considered this tree in all seasons, and created a baking counter with casement windows that could swing wide open and practically bring the tree indoors.  In summer, deer come by in the afternoons to eat the groundfall apples and nap in the shade, I think listening to classical music from the CBC, while I am cooking.

Baking Counter

We have only been able to live the life we envision on this farm in snippets because we work overseas and can only be there for six weeks in the summer and possibly a couple more in the winter.  Our oldest son, though, went to university in the nearby city and has been able to live on the island or commute there on weekends for several years, now.  Even though this place can be a challenge to maintain sometimes, he loves what we love about it and has begun living the life we would live which includes growing our own food and preserving it.  I bought a heavy-duty dehydrator a few years ago and in the fall,  Gabel painstakingly cuts the apples into slivers and sees them through the drying process.  Then what does he do with the bags and bags of dried apples?  Like a cat who has proudly pounced upon a mouse, he brings them to me, all of them.

When the boys came to Tunis for Christmas, their backpacks were a hit and miss of items we had put on our wish list for them to bring, but Gabe did put in eight small packets of his freshly dried apple crop.  I have been saving them here in the freezer, but now Gabe is heading back this week.  He has finished what he has been pursuing here in Tunis and is ready to get a jump on a summer job, register for summer school, and get our farm back in shape.  We’re having some of the friends he has made through his Arabic school over for a dinner of his favorite foods, tomorrow.  We will have pinto beans, Mexican rice, dried chile salsa, goat cheese tamales, and a cake, featuring his hand-dried apples.  Imagine, feeding his friends, from several different countries, cake, made with the fruit from the heart of our home?  These are heavy apples, indeed.

Dried-Apple Cake

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil (If you possibly can, use extra-virgin olive oil instead.)
4 large eggs
3 cups reconstituted dried apples
1 cups coarsely chopped nuts (I used toasted hazelnuts, also a NW specialty)
1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of pans with baking paper. Butter and flour paper; tap out excess flour.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl to blend. Whisk sugar and oil in large bowl until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in apples, nuts and raisins.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and bake the layers for about 40 minutes each, or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Peel off baking paper; cool cakes completely.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly.

To assemble, frost the top of one cake, place the other cake on top. Frost the sides and top, swirling decoratively. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to set up frosting.

Barely Sweet

If you read my blog astutely, not that I expect you to, but you may have noticed that I posted Allan and I went on a trip to Slovenia and Croatia.  Now, I had every intention of giving day by day coverage of our discoveries, but I forgot the charger for my camera and I burned out the battery on day 2.  Without photos, let’s face it you don’t have much of a blog.  I took some pictures with Allan’s phone and I may dribble those out over time, but I missed the big photo op.

But maybe it’s better this way.  Maybe Slovenia and Croatia just became part of me and I will reveal how they changed me through small revelations.  That is actually true, and I noticed that tonight.  I always have a quart of strawberries in my fridge these days because they are so beautiful and abundant in Tunisia, right now.  We don’t eat much dessert at our house, but the weather has turned chilly again, and the sea is stormy, and Allan and I aren’t feeling our best, so our son made a gorgeous chicken soup with homemade dumplings for dinner.  I decided I could at least contribute a little cake to have with our strawberries.  I saw a recipe today for a cornmeal cake, which I hoped would be like just about every dessert we had on our trip:  barely sweet.  The desserts were heavily fruit laden, think strudel,  with just a hint of sweetness.  I commented several times that the dessert could almost be a side dish.  This cornmeal cake has that very touch of sweetness and a really nice corn crunchiness (I used a coarsely ground cornmeal), while being fork tender at the center.  It was just what I wanted to have.

Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: f/2.8

Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries

From Fresh From the Farmers’ Market by Janet Fletcher

  • Unsalted butter and cornmeal for preparing the pan
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides, then dust with cornmeal, shaking out excess.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add sugar gradually and beat, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, until creamy and light.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add lemon zest.
  4. Combine milk and vanilla extract.  With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with milk.  Beat just until blended, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.
  5. Bake until top is golden brown and firm to the touch, 35-40 minutes.
Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: f/2.8

Poppy Seed Cake with Grilled Peaches

Ten days from today, we’re on our plane flying home to Lummi Island.  This is my last week to cook through some ingredients that I don’t want to leave until I come back in August.  Last summer, when I returned, our household helper informed me (you should have heard that multi-lingual exchange accompanied with pantomimes) that some of my spices had termites so she threw them out.  I would have found that a little unbelievable except one week later, my son was about to sprinkle some pimente forte on his pizza when he noticed that little white things were wiggling in it and threw it away, too.  That local chili powder is almost too hot for humans to eat, yet it is a perfect breeding medium for bugs?

I had a large quantity of poppy seeds after spending my winter vacation in Prague and Germany.  Using them at the rate of a teaspoon here and there wasn’t even making a dent in my stash.  I needed a recipe that was pretty much based on poppy seeds.  I found this one that had been developed by caterer Vered Guttman and which was printed in the Washington Post.

Poppy Seed Cake

12 servings


  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup plain unsweetened applesauce or yogurt
  • 7 ounces (about 2 cups) twice-ground poppy seeds (see following notes)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the flour and the baking powder in a small bowl.

Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the butter and applesauce, then gradually add the flour mixture and the twice-ground poppy seeds to form a very wet batter. Pour into the pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only crumbs. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let the cake cool completely before removing the springform ring.

For this recipe, you have to double grind about 2 cups of whole poppy seeds in a coffee or spice grinder.  It actually takes some intensity to break them down.  As you might imagine, they are so round and hard they just whirl around for a few seconds until some heat builds up in the grinding chamber and they gradually start to crack.  Here is the contrast of whole poppy seeds and what they look like after one grinding.

Then, this is the color and consistency after the second grinding.

Now, what does that remind me of?  Let me see?  Of yes, a cat litter box!  When you start to get that clumping consistency, you’ve got what you’re grinding for.

I made this whole cake on Sunday morning and then took it to two parties, one barbecue lunch and one garden dinner.  When I told the other guests the quantity of poppy seeds in the cake, I could feel their nervousness.  I knew they were wondering if it is OK to eat pure ground up poppy seeds and if they were going to become high as there were some jokes about not taking a drug test in the next week.

I did some research to find out what effect on health or nutrition poppy seeds have.  I was surprised to learn that they contain actual nutrients and aren’t just decorative.  Here are the highlights:

Health benefits of poppy seeds

  • Poppy seeds contain anti-oxidants.
  •  The seeds are especially high in oleic and linoleic acids which help lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increase HDL or “good cholesterol”.
  • Poppy seeds’ outer coat is rich in dietary fiber.
  • Dietary fibers bind to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) and decrease their re-absorption in the colon, further helping lower  LDL cholesterol levels.
  • The seeds are an excellent source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid.
  • Poppy seeds contain good levels of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and magnesium.
  • Dried poppy seeds contain very small levels of opium alkaloids when consumed in food, producing minimal effect on the human nervous system.

This cake is a real surprise.  It looks like it is going to taste like chocolate, but it tastes of molasses and buckwheat flour, two ingredients absent from the recipe.  It is very moist and keeps well for a few days.  We had it with these grilled peaches and the caramel sauce was key to pulling this dessert all together.

Cinnamon-Grilled Peaches


  • 4 large ripe freestone peaches (I peeled them, first)
  • 8 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks (I used actual licorice sticks- nothing to do with the candy)
  • 8 fresh mint leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt


Rinse the peaches and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut each peach in half and discard the pit. Then, cut each peach into quarters. Using a pointed chopstick or metal skewer, make a starter hole in the center of each peach quarter, working from the pit side to the skin side. Skewer 2 peach quarters on each cinnamon stick, placing a mint leaf between the 2 quarters.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let the glaze boil until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Prepare and preheat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grate. Next, place the skewered peaches on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side, basting with the rum and butter glaze. Spoon any remaining glaze over the grilled peaches and serve at once.

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Coconut Biscuits

Before I leave my  Tuscan state of mind, I want to capture a recipe.  This is simple and that’s partly why I love it.  Last night, Nadia, the owner of the farm, finally let me join her in the kitchen.  She offers dinner to the guests about every other night and this was to be an off night, but she was planning to make a little dinner for the wine-bottling crew and offered to feed us as well.   We made a basic tomato sauce from two of the 500 jars of tomatoes they put away each summer.  Tomato puree, a clove or two of whole garlic, and a sprinkling of salt were all we used.

While that sauce was simmering and the penne was boiling, Nadia whipped up some coconut biscuits.  This is a recipe she knows by heart.  She began by propping a hand mixer in a bowl in the sink to whip one egg.  The rest of the recipe she measured, using her metric scale.  To the egg, she added 85 g. (6 Tbsp.) of sugar and beat until light yellow.  Then, she mixed in 85 grams (6 Tbsp.) of unsweetened, shredded coconut and finally, 20 grams (1 1/2 Tbsp.) of flour.  She simply scooped this out of the bowl in 1 tablespoon scoops, rolled them in her hand and placed them on a baking sheet.  This recipe makes 12-14 biscuits.  She put them in a 140 degree C. (300 F) oven and while they were baking, melted 100 g. (3.5 oz) of dark chocolate in a double boiler.  When the cookies were slightly brown (check after 10 minutes) she removed them from the oven and cooled them by putting them on the terrace.  Finally, she half-dipped each cookie in the chocolate and cooled again.

This is a recipe I want to pull out for one of those meals when we have company or family with us.  Maybe we’ve had a busy day and we are tired, but I still want to prepare a great dinner with a sweet treat at the end.  This was the way last night was.  It was a big day for Nadia and Renato, getting the bottling in-process.  Renato was poetic at dinner about the roller coaster ride a wine maker’s emotions go through in the production of a vintage.  We called this bottle ‘the baby’ and shared the first bottled glasses with the vintner.  It was an honor to be in that moment.

This is a PS for me.  I want to remember to make a cracker-thin crusted pizza with blue cheese and radicchio when I can and I want to keep that idea, somewhere.