Monday, August 21, 2017

Love That Garlic

My focus the last few days has been the garden. The flowers are blooming like mad and the veggie are finally least some of them. We get about one good sized zucchini per day, a handful of firm, slender tiny green beans, another handful of pear shaped cherry tomatoes, and a small cucumber every other day. Should be baking a cake for the Cake Slice Bakers, or bread for the Bread Baking Babes, but I'm in the garden now that the bath project is done.

In order to really enjoy the beginning of the harvest season, I decided to do a meal that is perfect for this kind of collection of veggies. With the addition of some boiled red potatoes, one hard boiled egg, and two kinds of mains (grilled salmon for me, tri-tip for Sweetie), we had a feast with the addition of a drizzle of home made aioli. You can dip, but the drizzle (see photo at top) looks pretty.

One of the most visited posts over the 10+ years I've been blogging is the one for Spinach-Rice Casserole, a comfort food and economical vegetarian dish from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. I'm showing how ancient I am with this, but I bought the book when it was new and when the idea of a vegetarian restaurant was pretty new, too.The recipes are from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York and the book is unusual because it is hand-lettered instead of being typed. Mollie did very cool illustrations, too, some helpful, some fanciful, but all lovely. If you don't have a copy, you can go online to places like Powell's and try to find a used copy. Worth the search.

My Sweetie has always been a meat and meat kinda guy, so the idea of vegetarian meals was never a hit with him. He did, however, enjoy trying new things. That casserole became a side dish and was enjoyed partly because the only other thing needed (by Sweetie) was his meat or poultry or fish entree.

Another loved recipe from this cookbook was for Aioli, a delicious garlic mayonnaise, which is served as a sauce for fish or, even better, as the dipping sauce that ties together a meal of steamed veggies, potatoes, hard boiled egg and whatever protein of the meat/poultry/fish variety that Sweetie wanted to make that day. You better love garlic if you make and serve aioli the way that Mollie makes it. It makes an assertive mayo, so was mostly made when the kids were off at camp or something similar. The garlic goes raw into the blender and there is a fair amount of it too. Be sure to use a good olive oil, too (not a finishing olive oil, but one that tastes good since you really taste the olive oil in this, along with the garlic). This makes enough for a generous serving for 4, but it keeps in the fridge for days. This afternoon I made a tuna sandwich filling using a little of it. Wonderful!

If you have your ingredients gathered, this only takes about 10 minutes in your blender. I suspect you could use a food processor, too, but I've only ever used a blender. For variations, you can add hot sauce or herbs like basil, mint, oregano, chives, etc. If you like roasted red peppers, adding some to the blender can make this sauce perfect for putting with grilled sausage. Bet you figure out your own variations.

from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook

1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (don't use anything need the hit of lemon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon tamari (I used soy sauce)
3 medium cloves garlic, crushed...or use more if you really love garlic
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups oil (I used all olive oil, but you can combine it with other oils for a milder taste)

Combine the lemon juice, salt, tamari, garlic, eggs and egg yolks in a blender and blend well at high speed.

Turn the blender speed down to medium. Gradually drizzle in the oil in a thin stream. Keep the blender running at medium until all the oil has been absorbed. The mixture should be thick. Turn the blender off because overbeating will cause the mayonnaise to thin out again.

Refrigerate until ready to use, or use right away. Refrigerated aioli will be a bit thicker than freshly made. Store leftovers in the refrigerator...I like to store in glass because the garlic really is strong.

Serve as a dipping sauce with a plate full of steamed veggies like green beans, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, carrot sticks, zucchini, etc. Include some good bread for mopping up the sauce. Nice additions include hard boiled egg halves or quarters, fresh tomatoes, cooked fish, chicken, pork or beef, the latter three cut into bite sized pieces.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Hearty Bread

I'm not baking bread as often as I used to. Lots of things getting in the way of it, but mostly it's because Sweetie asked me to not tempt him with warm bread quite so often...he has no resistance to bread hot from the oven but wants to continue to fit in his clothes.

Still, I have a sourdough starter and it seems a shame to waste the 'toss off' that comes with feeding it. Before I went to LA I used it to make some pizza dough, which I then froze. One day soon I'll make pizza for dinner, but for now the calories are held at bay.

I fed it again a couple of days ago and decided that it had been a long time since I've made a hearty, seedy bread. If I give half of it away then Sweetie and I can still have some and feel virtuous at the same time. After doing a half-feeding of the toss off (1/2 cup each all-purpose flour and water, instead of a full cup of each), I let that sit in the fridge over night. The second day I fed the mixture with a feeding of 1 cup graham flour (Bob's Red Mill brand) and 1 cup water. It made for a soupy mixture since the last time I fed the starter I added extra water knowing that it would be well over a week before I could feed it. The reason I mention this is that I started with more hydration in the dough than usual. If you have 100% hydration starter, you won't need as much flour for the bread.

The graham flour mixture sat on the counter for about 20 hours before I started the dough and it was nice and bubbly, plus there was a great yeast fragrance, but I knew I would be adding a lot of things needing a bit of extra lift, so I whisked in 1 teaspoon active dry yeast.

In a bowl I mixed together dark rye flour, flax seed, all-purpose flour, and salt. These were added to the sourdough mixture using my stand  mixer and the dough hook, letting everything come together and finishing with some all-purpose flour to stiffen the dough a bit. Once the machine kneading finished, I did some more on a floured board. The dough was just a bit tacky, so I used my bench scraper to lift the dough up and over for kneading.

After kneading a few minutes, I flattened the dough out into an oval, then sprinkled on 1/4 cup chopped pecans and 1/4 cup of Salad Toppings, a mixture I found at Costco that contains pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries. Rolled up the dough, folded the ends over, then flattened it again to allow for the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pecans and 1/4 cup Salad Toppings to be worked in. More kneading until all was evenly distributed, then into the rising container for a few hours to rise. I like to spray the bottom and a bit up the sides of the container with spray olive oil, then turn the dough in it to coat surface of the dough with oil. Probably not necessary, but I like the dough to stay soft on the surface and that takes care of that.

After the dough doubled in bulk, I turned it out on a floured board, punched it down, used the bench scraper to cut it into three pieces, then weighed them so that they were each about 14 oz. Rolled each into a snake shape and put them, lined up, on a baking sheet. After braiding them loosely, I covered the braid with a clean tea towel and let it rise. All that was left was preheating the oven, painting the plait with beaten egg, and baking it until golden.

This makes a hearty bread. It has a fairly fine grain and is studded throughout with seeds, nuts, and the occasional cranberry piece. I served it with dinner and one guest described the variety of flavors and 'lots of musical notes', but they all work well together. This is not a sweet bread since the proportion of cranberries in the Salad Topping is small. It has lots of seeds, which is lovely, and makes great toast.

I had a couple slices today for lunch as Avocado Toasts with some smoked salmon on top. Yum!

Hearty Seedy Braid
my own creation

1 cup sourdough starter, plus about 2 tablespoons water if your starter is 100% hydration
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1 cup graham flour
1 cup water
1 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup flax seeds
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional (about another 1/2 cup or so)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup mixed sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries
1 egg, beaten

Take the 1 cup sourdough starter and put into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl whisk together the all purpose flour and the water. Whisk into the sourdough starter until well combined. Leave on counter, uncovered for 2 hours, then lightly cover and refrigerate.

The next day whisk together the graham flour and the water in a small bowl. Add it to the sourdough starter mixture and let sit, uncovered, on the counter until the next day.

The next day, whisk together the rye flour, flax seeds, all-purpose flour and salt in a medium bowl. Put the sourdough mixture into a stand mixer bowl. Attach the dough hook to the mixer. Stir about 1/3 of the flour mixture into the sourdough mixture with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Put the bowl on the mixer base and start up the dough hook on low speed. Slowly add the remainder of the flour mixture. If needed, add additional all-purpose flour as the mixer kneads the dough for at least 8 minutes. When kneaded, dough should clean the sides of the bowl and be tacky but not sticky.

Remove the dough from the dough hook and bowl onto a lightly floured board or clean work surface. Knead the dough a few turns, then flatten into a large oval or circle. Sprinkle half the pecans and half the seed mixture over the dough, roll up jelly-roll fashion and flip end up over the log. Press down to flatten the dough again, sprinkle on the remaining pecans and seed mixture, roll up again, then knead until the pecans and seeds are well distributed in the dough.

Oil lightly a rising container. Place the dough in it, then turn dough over so that all is coated with oil. Flatten the dough in the rising container, cover with a clean shower cap or with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place to double in bulk.

When dough has doubled, turn out onto a lightly floured board or work surface. Using a bench scraper, cut into three pieces (weigh if necessary to keep about the same weight), then roll each piece into a snake shape. Place the three snakes next to each other in a baking sheet, braid loosely, tuck ends under, cover with a clean tea towel and let rise until about doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When braid has almost doubled, use a pastry brush to paint the plaits with beaten egg. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown. When you tap the bottom of the loaf, it should sound hollow. Cool for at least 10 minutes on a rack, then slice and serve.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Happy Birthday Max. This Party Cookie is for you - although we did eat it tonight after dinner.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Party Cookies

Having a great time...wish you were here. That's what a classic vacay postcard might say and that is what I would have written if I'd sent postcards while in Manhattan Beach last week and earlier this week. The weather was perfect. The beach was gorgeous and I got to drive a dope car, eat great food, hang with the neighbors and their doggies, and best of all spend time with my daughter. Too bad that she was recovering from a really bad summer cold almost the whole time I was there, but real life isn't a post card.

One of the fun things I did was make Giant Party Cookies in a big saucepan with a wooden spoon since there was no stand mixer or similar. The lovely thing about this kind of recipe is that you really don't need fancy tools...a pot, measuring tools, a wooden spoon, foil, and a large baking sheet or pan is it. Even the ingredients are pretty simple...basically chocolate chip cookie ingredients with oatmeal added. Be sure to have some items on hand to decorate them. Colored sugar, dragees, chocolate jimmies, colored sprinkles...use your imagination.

There is a bit of history that goes with this recipe. When the kids were little there were always school birthday parties. In those ancient days it was OK, even expected, that the mom would bring in dozens of cupcakes for the classmates of the birthday boy or girl for the party. The poor teacher had to put up with the resulting sugar high.

I don't enjoy making cupcakes. I love making cakes, but the repetition of icing and decorating thirty or so cupcakes for all those kids just wasn't my cup of tea. My solution was the Giant Party Cookie, which is a super sized chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, shaped as desired, then decorated with drizzles or patterns of icing and sprinkles of various decorating candies. The cookies are just thick enough to hold up the birthday candles if that is what you are making them for. K decorated ours and we took one to dinner at the neighbors and the second to her work.

We were just going for fun, so I made one in a sort of round shape and the other is a sort of heart shape (if you use a round pizza pan you have more room to make shapes), but in the past I've done a football shape for a football event, a shamrock for St. Patrick's Day, etc.  K is very artistic, so she made a pattern on each cookie and used M&Ms and colored and funfetti sprinkles for decor. Both the neighbors and the co-workers were charmed. The great thing is that you can cut a piece the size you want with these. Not much of a sweet tooth? Cut a small piece because these are fairly sweet with all the decorations. Fun!

The recipe below is what I used with these changes: I substituted dried cranberries for the nuts and put the M&M candies on after the cookies were baked, plus we used a packaged white icing instead of the confectioners sugar and hot milk icing. The photo is of a heart cookie I made when I was first blogging. On that one the M&Ms went on to the raw shaped dough as the recipe describes.

Giant Party Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
½ cup quick rolled oats
2 cups (12-oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped nuts

For circle or heart shaped cookie:
1 cup M & M candies in appropriate colors
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons hot milk
Assorted cake decorations such as dragees, colored sugar, colored small shapes, chopped nuts

For football shaped cookie:
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons hot milk
1 tablespoon cocoa
more confectioners sugar as needed

Combine flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape bowl and beaters. Gradually beat in flour and beat until mixed. Beat in oatmeal. Mixture will be stiff. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Line a 12” pizza pan with foil. Spray with cooking spray. Put 2 cups of the dough on the foil. Using floured fingers, shape dough into desired shape, either circle or heart. Make shape about 10” in diameter. Exaggerate the shape since cookie will spread. Football shape can be made on foil lined rectangular cookie sheet. For circle or heart, sprinkle M&Ms over dough shape and pat lightly into dough.

Bake one sheet at a time in middle of oven for 15 - 18 minutes until golden brown. Let sit on sheet for 10 minutes, then slide shape on foil onto a cooling rack. Continue to bake the rest of the dough. You can make regular drop cookies with the remainder of the batter if desired.

Once the cookie has cooled, decorate for a party! Mix the confectioners sugar and milk and drizzle over the cookie in a random pattern or pipe in a design. While it is still wet, sprinkle cake decorations over as desired.

Thursday, August 03, 2017


Off today to the LA area to spend some time with my daughter and with the ocean. In need of a vacation, so this is perfect. Won't be doing much on the internet for the next week or so.
Sweetie will still be at home with sweet Pi doggie and Grandma. He might even do some more work on the farm house project...or not. He deserves a vacay, too, but he prefers a staycation.

Enjoy your Summer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A True Cat

Merlin, better known as Buggy (for Love Bug), came to us for a short visit and stayed 16 years or more. He was a cat who should have been an indoor cat because he had long, beautiful hair for a coat, but his preferred place was outside. For many years he was indoors when it suited him and outdoors when he felt like it, including sitting on the back porch just out of reach of the rain when one would have thought that being indoors by the fire would be better.

He had many of the classic attributes of a cat. When we did construction projects, he was the sidewalk supervisor, checking out our work and squeezing into spaces he wanted to explore, even if that meant we had to wait a bit for the next joist to go in. He also perfected the maneuver of coming towards you, calling in his Siamese voice, then, once you started towards him, he would turn and stay just out of reach until he led you to where he wanted you to go. Herding humans was easy for him.

He always found the best spot. It might be the perfect patch of sun on a chilly day or the spot where shade and breeze were just right on a hot day. Above, he found the chair with the pillow by the Christmas tree, not the uncushioned bench or chilly floor.

He had a purr that wouldn't quit when it suited him. Sweetie loved on him every day and so Merlin would start to purring when he saw Sweetie sometimes. Sweetie was the only one Buggy would sit still for when it came to grooming, especially when it was time to remove matted fur that had gathered into a chunk. He would let me remove foxtails and burrs, but not the matted fur.

He will be greatly missed now that an embolism caused some paralysis and we had to let him go. He was grouchy and touchy and independent as hell, but that only made him dearer. Rest now Merlin. Thanks for the memories.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

E & L & Sweet Peas & SF

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be called on for an unexpected opportunity to spend some time with to delightful girls who live in our neighborhood. We discovered that we all have a great fondness for Calvin and Hobbs, that we three like flowers in the garden and that Sweetie's train room is fascinating.

After deciding that we didn't have enough tree bark to make a fairy castle, we decided to do some watercolor painting. E painted the flowers in my garden and the bird ornament that seems to be flying over the Clarkia. L painted a wonderful scene which was dominated by a rainbow. Later she painted a sea scene and some flowers on a small piece of watercolor paper.

It was a short visit, but sweet. Hope they stop by again.

I also am enjoying my July sweet peas. Usually sweet peas bloom in the spring, but we had such a cool spring that they are just now coming into their full glory and the same time that the lily is blooming. Sweet scents in the garden!

Went today to McLaren Park in San Francisco where our daughter was organizing an event for her job. The non-profit devotes itself to planting trees in urban areas all over the U.S. Today they planted 80 street trees along Woolsey street. About 60 volunteers did the work and afterwards there was a catered sandwich and cookie and salad spread with all the food from BiRite Grocery on Divisadero, courtesy of EcoMedia. My artist friend P went with Sweetie and I and Straight Shooter met us there.

All was well until the very end when we returned to our car to find the back window smashed and P's purse stolen. It was hidden in the back, but the car was on the road all by itself by that time and I guess it looked promising, even though there was nothing valuable in sight. Called in a police report. K and her friends searched the neighborhood for a discarded purse, to no avail.  Needless to say we skipped the social time with K and her friends and cleaned up the glass as best we could and headed home to report it to our insurance. Fortunately no one was hurt and the car was drivable. A sad ending to a fun event, but life is random and people can be greedy. P stopped her credit cards and bank accounts right away and will have the chore of replacing her driver's license and so on. Our window will be repaired before the end of the coming goes on.

Congrats to K for a great event with happy boss, client and non-profit...a great trio to please...and there are more trees to help with air pollution and to give shade in the city.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Different Salad

Sweetie and I were telling one of the owners of our favorite cafe...Redwood Cafe in Cotati...about a recipe in the food section about making 'noodles' out of zucchini, daikon radish, carrots, cucumber, and other veggies. He brightened up and said to wait for him, then took off for the kitchen. He returned with a large bag of white, crisp, noodles and said they were made out of kohlrabi and that a vendor had given him some to try. He gave us the bag and I promised that I would make a dish that made good use of them and then post it here. Moose, here is your Kohlrabi Salad!

These swirly noodles, created by spiralizing raw kohlrabi, are almost tasteless, which means that you can pair them with all sorts of flavors. Moose had suggested heating them briefly so that they were similar to pasta and then saucing as I would pasta. Will probably do that soon with the rest of the bag, but tonight I made this salad for dinner. The crisp noodles are just nicely crunchy, but very easy to bite through. Next time I might chop the strands a bit smaller so that they are more graceful to eat.

I combined freshly minced ginger, rice vinegar, lime juice, olive oil and a tiny bit of honey for a dressing. The idea was to have a dressing that was flavorful but light tasting.

I julienned orange, white, and purple baby carrots, some Persian cucumber, and some red bell pepper for the veggies, then decided to include a mellow, ripe avocado, too.

A topping of chopped peanuts added another flavor note and more crunch, but it could be left off, too.

This mixture would be amazing on a fish taco, but it also went well with the chicken thighs that Sweetie grilled. I finished my salad first, it was so good. Sweetie had a second helping and cleaned out the serving bowl. Clearly I need to make this again!

Thank you Mustafa for your generosity in sharing this new kind of 'noodle' and I hope you can make use of this recipe, since I created it from scratch.

Kohlrabi Salad for Moose
Serves 2-4

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
juice of one lime, about 3 tablespoons
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup each julienned baby carrots, red pepper and cucumber (Persian or English are best for this). These matchstick pieces should be about 1/4 to 1/8th-inch thick and about 1 to 1 1/2-inches long.
1 avocado, seed removed, peeled and cut into chunks
4-6 cups kohlrabi 'noodles', basically spiral cut kohlrabi, chilled
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts (optional)

In a small jar with tight-fitting lid, combine the ginger, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and honey. With lid securely in place, shake the jar until all ingredients are well combined. Taste and add salt or pepper if desired. Set aside.

In a large bowl place the baby carrots, red pepper, cucumber, avocado and kohlrabi noodles. Drizzle most of the dressing over the contents of the bowl. Use tongs to toss the ingredients together, allowing all to be at the bottom of the bowl with the dressing and then to move to other parts of the bowl. (If desired, you can roughly chop the kohlrabi noodles before putting them into the bowl. This will make tossing and serving...and eating!...easier.)

Using the tongs, transfer salad to salad bowls or plates and top, if desired, with a pinch of the peanuts.

Serve at once.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On The Train

For years there has been talk about a passenger train to connect northern Sonoma County with San Rafael in Marin County. Over a hundred years ago such a train was available but then the automobile took over. The right of way was still there, but the tracks and infrastructure were shot. After lots of talk, hard work, political maneuvering to get state and federal funding, and some local votes to allow for extra sales tax to help fund it, the SMART train is now a reality.

Soon they will begin giving rides to paying customers, but this month they offered some free trips. What an excellent way to lure future paying riders. Yesterday Sweetie and I, Straight Shooter, and the neighbors we have Sunday breakfast with, all took the train from the first station by the Schultz Airport down to San Rafael and then back again.

Each way took about an hour and 15 minutes and it gave tantalizing views of parts of each county that we had never seen before. There is an amazing amount of undeveloped land in our two counties near the train, but we mostly travel by car where it is developed.

That's one of the appeals of train see areas that are otherwise hidden.

These are lovely new diesel trains with very comfy seats, tray tables like on an airplane, outlets so that one could plug in a laptop (although we left ours at home), overhead shelves to hold bags, hooks to hold bikes, and a sturdy handhold at the end of each pair of seats so that those standing have a place to hold on. By the second stop those handholds were needed. Even though they had added trains, this was a popular free ride!

Because of the added trains, we weren't able to go to the car that had refreshments while the train was moving. Those in the last two cars could. Refreshments sales benefit a local non-profit that helps disabled folks become independent.

The ride is very quiet and smooth and the windows by each set of seats are huge, so you really see the sights as you move along. Some facing sets of seats have tables between them like in the dining cars of Amtrak trains I've been on. Otherwise, you are seated facing in one direction. On the way back, we were facing San Rafael, so we looked at where we had just been.

A group that does tableaus at the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery came all together, dressed in the costumes they wear for their performances, so they had cowboys, Victorian ladies, some with clothes from the teens and twenties of the twentieth century...such fun!

My favorite section was between Petaluma and Novato. It is often a swampy area, with tidal sloughs, but we also saw man made ponds and hundreds of waterfowl...ducks, geese, and heron mostly.

It's an area that is only accessible by water or the train and is hidden from view of the highway by tall hills with live oaks sprinkled on them.

Very unspoiled and scenic and very close to two major urban areas, too.

Not all the scenes are bucolic. There are plenty of places where being by the railroad lends itself to junkyards, bus yards, gravel yards, lumberyards, boatyards and industrial buildings. We saw backyards, a golf course right next to the train tracks,

and roads where cars were stopped.

We even went through a tunnel on our way into San Rafael. The tunnel walls were inches from the sides of the train. No photos of the tunnel...too dark!

There is also a recycled bridge that raises and lowers near the Petaluma marina. No photo of the bridge, but here is the marina.

In about a year from this November there will be a spur that goes to the Larkspur Ferry terminal, but until then there is a bus from San Rafael transit mall to the ferry.

If you have about two hours each way you can take the train to the bus to the ferry to San Francisco! No driving needed, other than to get to the train station. Hope to do that soon and have lunch with my sister-in-law or my niece at the Ferry building in San Francisco, right by the bay.

I was afraid that the riders would be mostly men and mostly gray haired and there were plenty. Hard to believe that young people would want to ride the train, but I was wrong. There were all ages of folks, with teens, lots of young families and lots of women who love trains along with the guys. Straight Shooter sat next to a woman who takes train rides all over the U.S. for her vacations.

It was nice to get a break from the farmhouse bath project, although, after lunch at Charlie's in Windsor, we did go to the hardware store and buy the shower and vanity fixtures. Back to the grindstone today. We need to get that shower operational for Grandma!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cake Slice Bakers Do Summer

Summer is such a great time for fruit with pits like plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries. Sweetie and I have been really enjoying fresh cherries unadorned and the season is drawing to a close, so eat those cherries!

This month one of the selections for the Cake Slice Bakers, as we continue to bake from Roger Pizey's book World Class Cakes, was Plum Madeira Cake.

What could be more summery than a cake with fresh plums? The Santa Rosa plums are almost finished on our tree, so I used some of the last ones, plus a peach from the market for this little cake. I say little because it's baked in a 6-inch diameter cake pan. I recently purchased a 6-inch diameter, 3-inch tall springform pan, so that's what I used. You can see that the red of the plums and yellow-orange of the peaches makes a nice pattern on the top of the cake, although most of the fruit has sunk into the body of the cake. Since I'm out of Madeira and since peaches go so well with bourbon, I substituted bourbon for the Madeira. Otherwise I followed the ingredients list, except for using margarine instead of butter due to my dairy allergy.

This cake was a real hit at the dinner party. Our host guessed that it had cornmeal or semolina flour, but that was the oatmeal texture he was noticing. In general it is very moist with an open crumb and a bit of extra texture from the oatmeal, but not the crunchy bite you get with cornmeal or millet. The flavors of plum, peach, oats and oranges went really well together. I think that the bourbon really didn't make much difference in the flavor. Next time I might just use more orange juice for the liquid.

I did make a slight change in the process of making the cake. I added the orange zest and juice and the bourbon directly to the margarine/sugar/egg mixture and incorporated them well before adding the flour/baking powder/oatmeal dry ingredients. The dry ingredients were folded in with a rubber spatula, then the batter went right into the prepared pan and into the preheated oven.

Although this made a wonderful dinner dessert, I think it would be equally as good as a morning coffee cake. I'm going to try it with fresh apricots and some pecans next time.

Be sure to check out the posts of the other Cake Slice Bakers. Remember, we have four cakes to choose from, so it's fun to see which ones they made and to see what their baking experiences were.

Plum Peach Madeira
Serves 8

7 oz. fresh ripe plums (I used less plums and added in a ripe peach, which I peeled)
7 tablespoons butter, softened (I used margarine)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup oatmeal, uncooked
1/2 tablespoons Madeira (I used bourbon)
finely grated zest of 1 orange and 4 tablespoons of juice

Preheat the oven to 310 degrees F. Grease a 6 1/4-inch x 2 1/2-inch deep cake pan and line with parchment paper. (I used a 6-inch x 3-inch springform pan and only put parchment on the bottom.)

Cut the plums into quarters, removing the pits, and set aside. (I cut the peeled, pitted peach into 8 slices, too)

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add half the beaten eggs, then the other half once the first half is incorporated. Mixture may look curdled. That's OK.

Mix in the orange zest, orange juice and bourbon.

In another bowl, whisk together the self-rising flour, baking powder, and oatmeal.

Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and stud with plum quarters on top. If using peaches, too, make a nice pattern.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a dull knife around the edges of the pan and turn the cake out onto a wire rack and strip off the parchment, turning the cake right side up for serving.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Customs Of The Land

I have to admit, it's a real joy to be able to use the internet to keep in touch, quickly, with people around the world. Easier to appreciate that we are all interconnected in ways large and small.

Even so, when I think of the people who have become a large part of the fabric of my life, it is usually those who live nearby, especially neighbors. I am very fortunate. I live in an area where the houses are in all sorts of styles and sizes. Some are from the time when this was a poor rural area and the 1900's houses often had recycled timbers as part of the structure. Our old farmhouse had some roof trusses that had been made from timbers from some structure that has been partially burned. When you don't have the money for new timbers, you use what you can cobble together. Other houses are newer and really nice, although we don't have any McMansions nearby. Lots of mid-century and later ramblers and split-levels, too.

The neighbors are all sorts, too, from farmers, to winery owners, to county sheriffs, landscapers, firemen, auto repairmen  and pastors, to name a few. Some make cheese, counsel executives of large companies,  are graphic artists, caregivers, grocery checkers, office managers, teachers, school classroom aides and more.

The advantage of a broad spectrum of homes and occupations, is that there are exchanges of tools, books and recipes among neighbors who may have vastly different opinions on world events and politics, so those with differing ideas don't so easily become 'the Other'. So what if some are liberal, some conservative? Some are homeowners, some renters. It doesn't matter...we take care of each other, look after each other's pets and gardens and take in the mail when the neighbor is on vacation, bring chicken soup when someone is ill, and similar small kindnesses. We help with home repairs and picking things up at Costco for each other. It seems a rare and wonderful corner of the world, but the customs of our small area of land seem quaint somehow.

How many of you know most of the neighbors in the area around where you live? Do you interact with them in similar ways or do you barely nod as you pass...can you even identify their car if it passes you on the road near your house or apartment?

It takes time, effort and some persistence to establish and maintain neighborhood friendships. If a lot of spare time goes towards keeping up with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and emails, when is there enough time to get to know the actual people who live next door?

I was recently reading a book about the time after World War I. Often people of that era had been living on the same street for many years and when hard times came the neighbors looked out for each other, even if no one had a lot to spare. It was expected, normal, the custom of the land.

Later, after World War II, the suburbs were filled with families who had parents in the same age range and kids who played with each other, up and down the block, so everyone still knew each other and I suspect that my kind of neighborliness is similar to what was true in those times.

Now people often live in neighborhoods where everyone is of the same status, race, educational background, and occupation type. Still, with two working parents being the norm, and with children having endless classes, camps, and sports activities after school and on the weekends, it seems that even neighbors who should be compatible don't have time to get to know each other. If you also are struggling to make ends meet, that can mean two or even three jobs and even less time to spend with your own family, much less with neighbors.

So I'm going to treasure my fine and friendly neighbors and count my blessings. Heavy use of the internet has reduced the time spent interacting with neighbors. I hope that the advent of VR doesn't completely do away with the friendships that can be found with those living close by.

Tomorrow I'll be taking a nice cake to dinner at a neighbor's home. I'll post the recipe on Thursday. I know already that there will be good food, laughter, lively discussions, and fond feelings. What could be better?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Velvety Bean Bread For The Babes

Somehow it's the middle of July. Time sure whips on by. Last month at this time it was really the 100s hot, and this month it's the same...should be 100 today. Any reader who reads this blog regularly knows that about the middle of the month I post along with the other Bread Baking Babes, having baked the challenge bread for the month. Last month I didn't post because the heat caught me by surprise and I left the baking to the last minute. This month I baked a week early, before it got hot. Glad I did.

I do enjoy the process of bread baking with yeast. There is something so magical about taking fairly basic ingredients and creating something that smells so good, tastes so delicious, and is such a building block for good eating. When kneading the dough this unpromising mass moves under your hands and suddenly it becomes silky and smooth and somehow more alive. Leave a yeasted dough at room temperature and it rises and fills the container it's in. Put the risen dough in a hot oven and it often rises some more. Pure magic!

This month Kelly of A Messy Kitchen blog gathered us around the kitchen table to bake Velvety Bean Bread. I've never made a bread with beans before, so wasn't sure what to expect, but this lovely bread doesn't really taste of bean. It has a close crumb, but is still fluffy in texture, which is a nice trick. Sweetie really liked this bread, especially the texture. I included spelt flour which gave it a subtle nutty flavor. Unlike many times when I make lots of changes, this time I pretty much stuck to the recipe ingredients. I used canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, for my bean paste. No sourdough this time, just a packet of dry yeast.

One thing I did differently was to make a poolish (yeast, flour, water) the night before which sat in the fridge overnight. I'm sure the bread would be fine without doing that, but it usually adds a bit of additional flavor. I left out the chives because I wanted to see what it tasted like without. I even ate the first piece without any embellishments, even butter.

Be aware that the water amounts in the recipe might need modifications. I needed to add water and I should have added even more since the volume of dough was 1/2 pound less than the recipe said it would be. Because of that, I used smaller bread pans. Probably should have just used it all in a large bread pan, but it was kind of fun to have a mini loaf. One thing I really should not have done was score the top. Not needed and it is too fragile to the top crust.

Do make this bread if for no other reason than seeing how you like bread with beans. It's a fairly easy to work with bread and delicious! Makes good toast, too. If you bake the bread, let Kelly know via email so that she can include you in the Buddy round up. Include a photo and a short description of your bread/baking experience.

Be sure to check out the efforts of the other Bread Baking Babes!

The recipe is from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World

Velvety Bean Bread
Makes 2 small pan loaves

2 tsp (7 g) active dry yeast
1 cup (236.5 g) lukewarm water (I used 1 1/4 cups, but think 1 1/2 would be better)
2 cups drained cooked or canned navy beans, room temp (I used canned, rinsed and drained cannellini beans)
1 cup (113 g) whole wheat flour (I used spelt flour)
1 tbsp (13.7 g) olive oil
1 tbsp (17 g) salt
2 tbsp (~6 g) chopped chives (optional)
~ 2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water.  Process beans until smooth, transfer to a large bowl or stand mixer.  Stir yeast mixture into beans.  Add the whole wheat flour and stir for one minute, in one direction, to develop the dough.  Add the oil, salt, and chives, if using and stir them in.  Add 1 cup of the AP flour and stir in.  Add the remaining AP flour and knead in with a dough hook, or work in and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, until smooth.

Place dough in a bowl, cover, and let rise for 3 hours, until almost doubled in volume.  (There should be about 2.5 pounds of dough, but there may be less depending on how much water you used.)

Turn out dough and divide in half.  Butter two 8x4" pans.  Form each portion of dough into a loaf and place seam side down in the pans.  The directions say to let rise for 2½ hours.  That was WAY too long for my kitchen.  You'll have to watch the dough for proper rise.  Check at 1 hour and continue to proof if needed.

Preheat oven to 400ºF, have a spray bottle or small cup of water ready for steam.  Slash each loaf lengthwise (or skip this step, which I recommend), place in oven and bake for 5 minutes, adding steam every couple minutes with the sprayer or cup.  Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for 25 minutes until rich brown with a matte finish.  Turn the loaves out and check for doneness. Finish cooling on a wire rack before slicing.