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


Best of the Season


I’ve just completed my first holiday season in the US, right from Thanksgiving through Christmas,  in 14 years.  It is a peculiar and luxurious thing to live in a foreign country much of your year.  You feel a little like you walk around wearing a cloak of invisibility.  You can observe the culture around you, but the culture is not generally targeting you for a response.  Billboards, advertisements on the radio and television, signs in the stores pass through my vision without recognition because I either don’t completely understand the language they are in, or because I am not their target audience.  I don’t have long black hair, so the shampoo commercial advertising extraordinary darkening and strength-building properties doesn’t tempt me.  I am not even likely to spend much of my clothing budget locally, so I’m not tempted by the sale banners in the stores.  The tone, the content, and the motivation for buying in another country are different and I am not who those advertisers have in mind.  But watch out.  When I get home, I AM the targeted consumer, and I really feel it.  Commercials that make me cry, like the one featured below, know exactly who they are talking to, who has the expendable income, and what pulls ,specifically, my strings.  Pop-up advertisements on Internet pages increased exponentially in the weeks following Thanksgiving and with increasing specificity.  If you have ever read the young adult novel Feed, I tell you it feels like we’re not far from a world where marketing is hardwired into our brains and shopping is as easy as completing a thought.  Without my work to keep me distracted and focused on things nonholiday, I was a sitting duck for this commercial bombardment, though I tried to keep it at arm’s length as much as I could.  From what I did peruse, however,  the following cultural sampler made my list of Christmas 2013 takeaways.

Best Cookie:  The boys and I had planned to make a quick road trip to Montana to visit my family before Allan got here.  Montana, however, just set a record for snowfall amounts in the month of December.  Given that I wasn’t in good enough shape at that time to hike 10 miles in a snowstorm to the next town if we had car trouble, and our vehicle is getting old, and we have a 5 month old puppy,  we decided not to go.  We spent that week baking cookies to send to them, instead.  Our favorite, in the end, was the least likely:  Rosemary and Toasted-Caraway Shortbread.  The balance of toasted seeds, camphory rosemary, and butter was so pleasant and went extremely well with other cookies, especially these chocolate-pistachio sables (we made ours with pecans instead of pistachios).

Best Movie:  The standard Christmas music and movies were overplayed and over-referenced all season.  It really got cloying.  When we returned home from our family Christmas party on Christmas Eve, we just couldn’t face The Christmas Story, again.  Anton made a daring suggestion from Netflix:  In Bruge.  Reading the summary, you probably wouldn’t think you would like to watch this at Christmas, but it was a real palate cleanser.  First of all, Allan and I love the city of Bruge and knew all of the cultural references in the movie.  But the hit men, who are the main characters, won our hearts with their humanity, and even though everyone dies in the end (spoiler alert), you have many authentic laughs and somehow feel happy.  If you found Fargo to be a “feel good” movie, then you will also like In Bruge.    Warning, this is a movie to be enjoyed with adult children or without children.

Best Song:  Listening to commercial-free CBC on the radio is my mental stabilizer during long island days.  When the recording of Natalie Dessay, singing Ave Maria from the film Joyeux Noel, was played, I held my breath and knew that it was a moment to remember.

Best Commercial:  The designers of this Apple TV ad hit below the belt on this one.  They got at one of the most heart achingly sensitive issues for parents at the holidays:  trying to connect with their disengaged, goofy teenager.  I never could watch this commercial without tears streaming down my cheeks.  The sweetness of the grandparents and other adults trying to pull this young man into the family, the awkwardness of the age difference between him and the younger children, his insistence on burying himself in his iPhone, all struck chords.  Then, when he proved that he was in fact deeply bonding with his family and cared very much, I cheered for all of the misunderstood adolescents I know and love.  They totally got me.

Best Christmas Pageant : I have an enormous soft spot for New Zealanders, otherwise called Kiwis.  When we renovated our Lummi Island farm, we modeled it after the metal-roofed, seaside sheep stations we had seen on the south island of NZ just the winter before.  This video additionally stole my heart because it reminded me of the plays and movies my boys made with their friends and cousins, of all ages, when they were young.  I love their out of character blushes at the references to pregnancy and sheep poop.  I played this more times than I will admit.

Best Photo:  Our boys and children of family friends went for a photo shoot with our favorite photographer, Megan Muse.  There were dozens of beautiful shots, but of course, this one was my favorite.

Best Getaway:  This is cheating a little because we’re not going here until tomorrow.  With all of my island sitting, and being quiet, and waiting for Allan to come, and then lots of cooking, we think we need a fun night to ourselves.  Tomorrow night, we will be in Vancouver eating at its number 1 rated restaurant presided over by its number 1 rated chef.  I don’t need to wait until after I eat there to tell you how it is; it will be fabulous.

Best Dessert:  This is the header photo above.  It is from Donna Hay Dec-Jan 2014, so it’s not yet available on their website.  The DH staff made their trifle with sliced strawberries, but as long as I was buying unseasonal fruit, I chose cherries to turn it into a black forest trifle.  It was not difficult to make, and it settled into a satisfying strata of red velvet cake, chocolate ganache, whipped creme fraiche, and whole, fresh cherries.  It definitely made an impressive presentation for Christmas dinner, but could just as nicely show up at Valentine’s Day or even the Fourth of July.

Black Forest Trifle

Adapted from Donna Hay, Dec-Jan 2014

  • 1 1/2 cups (pouring) cream
  • 500g dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups (pouring) cream, extra
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweet sherry
  • 750g cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 5 whole cherries, with stems, for decoration

red velvet cake

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted (to make:  3/4 cup flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  To make the red velvet cake, place the butter, sugar and vanilla in the owl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until pale and creamy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour, cocoa, buttermilk, and food coloring and beat on low speed until just combined.  Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 20cm round cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper and smooth the top with a palette knife.  Bake for 50-55 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.  Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Use a serrated knife, trim the top of the cake, cut into three layers, horizontally, and trim to fit and 18cm. glass vase (4.5 liter capacity).  Set aside.

     Place the cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Allow to stand for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has melted.  Whisk until smooth and well combined.  Allow to cool at room temperature.

     Place the creme fraiche or sour cream, extra cream, and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until soft peaks form.  To assemble the trifle, place a layer of cake in the base of the vase.  Spoon over 2 tablespoons of the sherry and top with 1 cup of the shipped cream.  Spread evenly and top with 3/4 cup of the chocolate ganache.  Spread evenly and top with 250g of the cherries.  Top with another 1 cup of the cream and spread evenly.  Repeat the layers tow more times, finishing with a layer of cream.  Top trifle with the whole cherries and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until cold and set.  Serves 12-14

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

A Montana Fourth

Celebrating the Fourth of July, as it should be done, for our family,  revolves around a trip to Montana.  In Montana reside my parents, my sister and her family, and my brother David’s family.  Billings, Montana is also about equidistant between Colorado and Washington which is the spread of my siblings and me.

This brother, David, also happens to own an idyllic box canyon ranch, stocked with Icelandic horses and many other fantasy features of a true western lifestyle.  It is flat-out fun and we love going there, because we love both our family and Montana.

It felt like the extended family made a greater effort than ever to get there this year and one of the things we all said we enjoyed the most about our time together was how we took turns with the meals.  For our part, there was a dinner based on Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk-Fried Chicken that was quite popular, especially with my 23 year old nephew who is living on his own now and really appreciates a home-cooked and free meal.

I also made an Ina Garten plum-apricot crumble to contribute to the Fourth of July barbecue.  This dessert was not-too-sweet, with extra crumb topping, and the plums and apricots bubbled together to form a pleasing pink color.

The main attraction, however, was the breakfast burritos made by my niece, Camilla, and her husband of almost one year, James.  Camilla has struggled with food allergies for many years and has explored cooking with a far greater variety of grains than I ever have.  She owns her own grain mill and for these tortillas ground hard Montana spring wheat, kamut, and spelt.  Camilla and James made and froze the tortillas and the Chili Verde Con Cerdo ahead of time and then cooked the eggs and bacon on the morning of the fourth.  We were absolutely groaning from the deliciousness and it was so much fun to share an interest in food preparation with them.

Breakfast Burritos

Flour Tortillas

  • 4 cups flour (choose any kind of flour such as wheat, kamut, spelt, etc…)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  1. Mix all ingredients until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Take a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and liberally add olive oil.  Place dough in the oiled bag and extract as much of the air as possible before sealing.  Roll dough around in the oiled bag to cover it well then let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  3. Form dough into golf ball sized portions and lay on a parchment covered baking sheet.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into tortillas.  Heat a dry nonstick skillet to medium heat and cook tortillas on both sides as they are rolled. Stack them on a plate as they come off of the pan and cover the stack with a dry dish towel.

Makes between 12-15 tortillas

Serve with any of the following: scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, onions, green chilies or potatoes.  Smother with Chili Verde Con Cerdo.  Top with additional grated cheese and sour cream.

Finally, what would a family reunion be without cute little boys playing with kittens and eating ice cream sandwiches?

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.

©Television Food Network G.P.
All Rights Reserved.

Crisp-Skinned Vietnamese Chicken with Peaches

I was at the beach all weekend, literally sitting in a chaise lounge talking to girlfriends.  It was so much fun, but I got no shopping or prepping done for the week.  Once we got back into Tunis, we stopped at a roadside stand for some produce.  They had these pretty, little, doughnut peaches and I bought them not entirely knowing what I was going to do with them.  I really appreciate the stone fruit season, here.  It is in spring and it allows me to enjoy some of the fruits I miss every August in Washington State when I have to leave to come back to Africa.

I had some chicken thighs and creme fraiche so I thought I would make a poulet a la peche I remember making a couple of decades ago when my husband and I were cash tight.  I had gleaned peaches after a harvest and he had home butchered some chickens he got from the absolutely free ads in the newspaper and we had a gourmet dinner one hot August evening at the little table in the kitchen of our first house.  That is a good memory.

Searching for a recipe, however, I found this light, crisp, spicy dish that sounded so much better.  Because these peaches slipped nicely out of their skins after I parboiled them, I decided to leave them whole, but the recipe directs slicing them into the salad.  I can’t remember the last time we fried chicken, but it was so worth it to create the crunchy contrast to the minty salad and the sweet peaches.  The recipe is from the Australian magazine Gourmet Traveler and it is making me think a little fondly of our days in Southeast Asia, which are good memories, too.

Serves 6


For Deep Frying

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 chicken, cut into 12 pieces


  • 3-5 peaches, peeled, halved, stones removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, halved lengthways and thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 1/2 cup (loosely packed) each coriander and mint
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (I substituted toasted macadamia nuts)

Nuoc Cham

  • 1 tablespoon each fish sauce and lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 long red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped


Heat oil in a deep saucepan or deep fryer to 180 degrees C.  Pat chicken to dry with paper towel then deep-fry in batches, turning occasionally until golden (10-12 minutes per side).  Drain on paper towel and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Meanwhile, for nuoc cham, whisk fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl to combine, then stir in chili and garlic.  Set aside.

Combine peaches, cucumber slices, and herbs on a serving plate.  Top with crisp-skinned chicken.  Drizzle with nuoc cham.  Scatter with nuts  and serve.

Mini-Strawberry Tarte Tatins

My friend Annie, at work today, whooshed past me as I was waiting to scan and send some recommendation letters.  She turned back and said, “Do you want to do some cooking with strawberries?”  My mind was far away from cooking at that moment and I wasn’t even sure I had heard her correctly, so I weakly smiled and dumbly nodded and she walked away.  But I do,  I do want to do some cooking with strawberries, still.  We have had strawberries for several months, now.  All winter I associated strawberries with the tonic flavors of winter:  fennel, leeks, spinach, and citrus.  By the way, I never get tired of that combination and we still have fat, ox-blood colored berries trying to catch our attention in the entryways of the produce stalls and I still cannot resist them.

Strawberries, however,  are verging on a danger zone for me.  It’s May now and a mythical place called Whatcom County, Washington is beginning to awaken from its dormancy in my brain.  I am pretty effective at cryogenically freezing that attachment when I have to be away all year, but I’m past the winter season here and the next encounter with strawberries will be in Washington and we will be right back into the shortcakes, jam, and I hope this summer, ice cream and then we will be with our sons, and our other side friends and family, worshipping the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the violet, solstice sunsets.

This was a recipe I piloted during the cook-a-thon that was the month of April.  It is from Donna Hay who, God bless her, keeps everything as simple as can be.  Even working with pastry.  I also love her committed use of vanilla beans with strawberries and it is a combination I insist on now, too.  This comes together easily and don’t think twice about buying puff pastry from the store which means, do that.  I am an advocate of making a lot of things at home, but puff pastry is not one of those things.  I’ve tried.  Warning, these boil over so bake them on a lined baking sheet.

Mini-Strawberry Tarte Tatins

Donna Hay, Issue 60

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 1 pkg. frozen puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the butter, sugar, water, and vanilla in a small nonstick or glazed pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, remove from the heat and compost the vanilla bean.

Divide the strawberries between 4 x 3/4 cup capacity, lightly greased muffin tins or mini-cocotte pans and pour over the caramel.

Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut circles 1/4 inch wider than the form you are using and place on top of the strawberries.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Invert onto plates and serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Makes 4.

Oatmeal, Pecan, Date Bars

There are going to be some date recipes on this blog.  Dates have become, in my kitchen, a little like bananas used to be when I lived in the US.  I always bought a few bananas, usually had some around, and then needed to use them in something when they got past fresh eating stage.

Dates don’t go quite so fast as bananas, but they are a staple we love to keep in our kitchen and then find creative uses for when the time comes to move them through.  It’s the date circle of life.

I am again crediting with a recipe, with some of my adaptations.  I’ll tell you why I’m OK with recent attributions.  I don’t mind because I’ve gone searching for good recipes from an entirely ingredient point of view and it turned out that had some useful recipes that allowed for the modifications I wanted to make.  Too defensive?  Maybe so, but this is a great date bar.


1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. lemon juice
16 oz. pitted dates, chopped
1 c. water


2 1/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. butter
1 1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 1/4 c. raw quick oats

1/2 c. chopped, toasted pecans

In a pie plate, toast pecans until slightly browned.  Cool and chop.

Make filling in a small saucepan; combine dates and sugar with water. Over medium heat, cook stirring constantly until thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon. Cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; grease 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan.

Sift flour with soda and salt.

Beat butter and brown sugar in medium bowl with mixer until light and fluffy. Add flour, oats, and nuts. Mix with hands, leaving dough in some clumps.

Press 1/2 oat mixture evenly on bottom of pan. Spread with filling, cover with remaining mixture. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool slightly, cut in squares while still warm.

Back on the Juice

My husband has been gone to the US for a week.  He got back last night, on Valentine’s Day.  It was alright having some time all to myself.  I’m working on some big projects and it was fun to have some endless days, especially on the weekend, to work and think and only stop to put a few bites of leftovers in my mouth.  But I very much missed Allan’s juicing routine.  I think I made it clear in Two Ways with Turnips that produce, all produce, is really inexpensive and organic in Tunisia.

We had a handy citrus juicing attachment for our food processor last winter and started the habit of making citrus juice everyday.  This year, we made the investment in an extraction juicer so we could take advantage of the beets, carrots, ginger, pears, and apples we have available all winter, in addition to citrus.

Allan has taken this practice on almost like a form of meditation.  We have a great produce shop just a block from our house and every few days we stop by, often after school.  When we get home, Allan heads to the kitchen and while I work on dinner and we listen to news, he washes produce and then starts juicing.  He used to make it every morning, but it involved quite a bit of clean up so he has taken to filling two or three Nalgene bottles and putting them in the fridge and then we have enough for two or three days.  This juice is so electric and vitamin packed I almost worry sometimes what it can do to a body to consume the equivalence of an entire bunch of beets in one glass, but I’m taking my chances and so far, we are both super healthy.

I think Allan is almost as proud of the bucket for the compost as he is of the juice.

My blood orange aperatif.  Notice the frothy crema on the top.

Preserved Lemons

           Every little Mom and Pop provisions shop around Tunis carries a few staples that a mother could send her 11 year old to fetch as she’s making dinner and realizes she’s missing a key ingredient.  There will always be canned tomatoes, tuna, a big variety of pasta and couscous for a little store, eggs, butter, and a few cheeses, olive oil, a variety of cured olives, and preserved lemons.  When I moved here, I intended to be all about using preserved lemon, but, as with the olives, while the store-bought ones are nicely flavored, I wonder how they have been prepared and handled.  How many times has the brine been reused?  Thinking about that puts me off a little.  Preserving my own olives turned out to not be so hard.  Preserving lemons takes just a few minutes to get started and about a month till you’re in the gold.
           My teaching partner and I have a shared hobby around the study and discovery of salt.  It began when we developed a unit to teach our students about the impact of salt on the entire history of the world, an ambitious unit.  In the process of our study, we both became energized on the subject. Richard gave me one of the most beautiful gifts I think I’ve ever received:  a copy of Mark Bitterman’s impassioned “manifesto” (his subtitle) on the subject of salt, titled Salted, along with a small collection of about 16 of the earth’s rarest salts.  Becoming educated about salt is going to be an ongoing pursuit and Richard and I are going to meet up in Portland this summer to visit Mark’s specialty shop, rather his temple to salt, to continue that process.
           Following is the recipe for preserved lemons from Salted which yields about 1 quart.
  • 8 large lemons, scrubbed clean
  • About 3 cups rock sea salt (This is my modification.  Mark calls for sel gris and maybe after I visit his store next summer I will be able to indulge in such a quantity of  specialty salt, but for today, it will be nice-enough Tunisian sea salt.)
  • 8 juniper berries (optional)
  • Fresh lemon juice, as needed
Cut the tips off the ends of the lemons.  Cut each lemon into quarters lengthwise leaving them attached at one end.  Pack the lemons with a much salt as they will hold.  Insert one juniper berry into each lemon.
Put the lemons in a sterilized wide-mouth quart-size jar, packing them in as tightly as possible.  As you push the lemons into the jar, some juice will be squeezed from them.  When the jar is full, the juice should cover the lemons; if it doesn’t, add fresh lemon juice.
Seal the jar and set aside for 3-4 weeks, until the lemon rinds become soft, shaking the jar every day to keep the salt well distributed.  The lemons should be covered with juice at all times;  add more as needed.  Rinse the lemons before using.
 What the heck do you use preserved lemons for?  
            Fair question.  I have to say that this is a condiment you have to just try and discover the quality it gives to dishes.  It is not brightly lemony.  It does taste deeply of lemon, but without the tart edge.  It bears a saltiness, but you rinse it before use so the salt is in good balance.  Once you try it in a few dishes, I wager you will start to crave the flavor depth it can provide.  I put preserved lemons in a category with anchovies.  While they both contribute depth of flavor and a little mystery to a dish, they don’t make it taste straight-up fishy or lemony.   Here are some suggestions from my favorite food magazine, Cuisine, which is published in New Zealand.

In small quantities, preserved lemons add a little zing to tapenades as well as a refreshing flavor to couscous, lentil or quinoa salads. The liquid from the jar can also be used in dressings. 

Preserved lemons transform yoghurt or mayonnaise to be used as a dressing and, finely chopped, add flavor to a tomato and cilantro salsa to accompany fish. 

Add a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and finely chopped preserved lemon peel to cooked, warmed lentils or beans along with plenty of watercress or arugula.   Serve with crumbled feta or as an accompaniment for grilled lamb. 

Make a flavored butter by adding finely chopped preserved lemon, garlic and chives to softened butter. Spread under a chicken skin before roasting or serve atop a piece of fried fish. 

Finish a seafood risotto with finely chopped preserved lemon or add to a gremolata, along with finely chopped parsley and garlic, to finish a braise of beef or lamb. 

Add slivers of preserved lemons to vegetables before roasting. Or blanch and sauté broccoli or cauliflower in olive oil with garlic then add slivers of preserved lemon and some pitted olives. 

Make a tagine of lamb or chicken by browning the meat then adding chopped onions, garlic, slivers of preserved lemons, cumin seeds, a few chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro and a little stock or water. Preserved lemons will also enliven all kinds of other casseroles.