it’s september and portland
has been my home for precisely two years
when i first moved
here i did a lot of wandering. i remember pausing in front of houses for what
felt like hours, dumbfounded at rosemary bushes the size of living room chairs,
magenta dahlias, fig trees, lavender, artichoke
i still stop every
time i see mount hood,
i can’t help it.
a few days ago, on
my walk home from a trip to the grocery store, i noticed an italian prune plum
tree in front of a small home. there was a sign out front, “for sale.” i
couldn’t help but think to myself, “i want those plums,” quickly rationalizing
my desire to steal by saying, “who is going to harvest this poor plum tree?
what’s gonna happen to all the fruit? what’s gonna happen to the tree?!”
so the next night, i
put on my cape and filled my bag high
shhhh . . .
italian prune plums
are one of my favourite end of summer treats. they’re tart and sweet, slightly
crunchy, perfect for afternoon snackin’
today, i wanted a
little bit more than just a plum, so
i turned on the oven, tied my apron and baked my favourite plum cake
billie sang for me
this plum cake recipe
comes from a dear family friend, uwe pleban. when i think of uwe, i think of
late night economics conversations after family dinner; walking near the river
spotting woodland birds; sunday afternoon football games. uwe and his wife,
sharbyn are incredible cooks. their home was always so comfortable - toasty
with dinner aromas, soft with sunshine, tucked away in the woods.
so, in celebration
of two formative years in the misty pacific northwest, with plum cake in the
oven, i’m happy to say that my home, too, feels this way
German Plum Cake
from uwe pleban, originally from his mother's dr. oetker
kochbuch from the 1950’s
for the dough, you’ll need:
one stick plus one
tablespoons butter (room temperature)
150 grams sugar
(about 6 heaping tablespoons)
one half teaspoon
pinch of salt
500 grams flour
(about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon baking
½ to 1 cup of milk (the amount depends on a number of
factors discussed later)
for the fruit topping, you’ll need:
2-3 pounds prune
plums (only prune plums will work, other plums will make a mess in the oven)
beat the butter
until it is smooth, then gradually add the sugar and salt.
add the eggs one
egg at the time
sift the flour and
baking powder into a separate bowl
add a few
tablespoons of the sifted flour to the batter, then some milk, and keep
alternating, ending with the flour. the batter should "tear" from the
wooden spoon; if it "drips", there is too much liquid, and more flour
should be added. the last two rounds of stirring the batter will require a lot
of muscle power, since the batter will be stiff.
butter a baking
sheet (i use a rectangular pyrex baking
dish). spread the batter evenly over the sheet.
preheat the oven to
preparing the plums
cut prune plums
open enough so that you can remove the pit. Spread each plum and place it in
the batter in rows. the rows will be close together. the plums should be at an
angle such that the interior light colored side faces upward.
bake for about forty minutes
after the cake has
cooled, optionally sprinkle confectioners sugar over it
serve it warm with,
1 ½ pint heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
whip with a hand held electric mixer until soft peaks form
this past week i had an unexpected, late
august visit to michigan.
it left me happier than any previous time
i’ve wandered home
for many reasons, this time around, love
let’s be honest, look at this place
photographs from my uncle ron’s film
so after a week of sticky heat and late
night swims, track walkin’ and singin’ old tunes, i’ve found myself right where
i need to be.
from one home to the other.
going and coming made me realize that
summer in portland is, indeed, all that everyone has ever told me it is:
hot, but not arid, not humid, just nice.
windy, sunny, vibrant, blue
to celebrate my labors, and the labors of
others, yesterday the grill got pulled out. the charcoal lit. chicken
there are a few things in this world i
wouldn’t want to live without:
so last night, we made jamaican jerk chicken
(stewed black beans and rice, grilled zucchini and poblano peppers and corn)
quick note before i share this recipe:
when i was in high school, a friend of
mine and her mother shared a few journeys to jamaica with me. needless to say,
these times were not only beautiful, but extremely engaging and educational.
during those days, in total they amount to twenty or so, i learned about
people. and by people i mean mankind, existence. some
of the most wholesome people in the world taught me there. reading the book of
job on benches. walking beneath mango trees into the homes of loved ones. so as i
was laying down this meat on the grill yesterday, the aromas of molasses and
allspice in the smoke, i couldn’t help but think of this:
(5 or 6 pound) roasting chicken, cut in half, lengthwise
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brandy
2 habaneros, with seeds, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 green onion tops, chopped
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
teaspoons ground allspice
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
teaspoons ground ginger
½ cup lime juice
salt and pepper
go to the butcher, purchase a 4-5 lb chicken, have them cut it in half for you
ii. at home, prepare all the
ingredients through molasses. combine in a blender and blend until mixture is
iii. taste it. i added about 2
tablespoons of red wine (shiraz-cab blend), just because. it helped deepen the
smokiness of the spices and enhance the sweetness. of course, this is optional.
iv. in a plastic container, or bowl,
whatever is most convenient, place your chicken down and cover with the lime
juice. now bathe them in your jerk sauce. set aside.
this should marinate overnight. my roommate and i made it on a whim, marinated
it for about an hour and a half, and i was still delicious and tender.
v. heat your coals on the grill, or
turn your fancy gas grill to medium. when it’s all ready, lay the chicken down. this is the part where you just have to watch and wait and kind of play it by
ear. after about ten minutes, i flipped the chicken. then after another 10 or
fifteen minutes i flipped it again. the outside of the meat, skin included,
will be very crispy and charred. i’d say in total, it will take about thirty to
forty minutes over medium-high heat on a coal grill. for more specific grilling
instructions, refer to the recipe i posted beneath the title, girl knows what
so what's on the cart, sides n' all?
top left: grilled vegetables quarter 4 zucchini and 3 poblanos (removing stems and seeds). half 8-10 pearl onions. toss with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. grill in a basket pan over medium-low heat until they're cooked to your liking.
bottom left: stewed black beans over medium heat, 3 cans of black beans (omitting juices from one can), 4 minced garlic cloves, ground nutmeg, ground black pepper, salt, cinnamon, red wine, whole cayenne peppers, 3 bay leaves. simmer for an hour. add more spices to taste.
bottom right: white rice. cook how you like to, using chicken stock as opposed to water.
top right: but of course, jerk chicken. as prepared using recipe above.
it’s been hot here. big blue skies and 100 degree days.
this morning it was hazy, cold like an autumn morning. it
i must be turning into a real pacific northwesterner,
relieved to have a few hours from the sunshine.
the heat sure does make me sluggish out here.
but i’ll tell you what, no matter how hot it gets, how sunny
and sweaty and still, i just can’t stop baking.
i’ve got my oven packed with peach pie and moroccan cookies and almond biscotti
it’s hot, sure, but ain’t nothing like a biscotti on a cool
morning like today.
last weekend i trucked out to hood river, east of portland,
on the columbia river gorge. i have dear friend, keely, who lives in a country home with her husband on the outskirts of her family’s vineyard, wy'east
wy’east is the native name for mount hood, which can be seen
like so, from their rolling vineyards
i’ve always loved the countryside, so being out there is
like going home.
not to mention, it’s beautiful, and when i woke up in the
morning, mount adams greeted me
it sure is something to be out there – purple martins just
barely touching the ponds edge, crickets all night, meteor showers, windy
keely’s family was having us for dinner, and at her father’s
request, we were to make chocolate chip cookies. we decided it would be more
fun to make chocolate buttercream cake.
so we pulled the shades, plugged in the fans, and pulled out
a few bowls, a whisk, a wooden spoon, and other cake-baking amenities.
so here’s a copy of chocolate buttercream cake that i
found a many years ago in a barefoot contessa cookbook
it is, of course, to be enjoyed on a cool summer night,
after swimmin’ and snoozin’ and workin’ and lovin’
chocolate buttercream cake
for the cakes, you'll need:
1 ¾ cup al purpose flour
1 cup dutch cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons coffee, cooled
ideally, with this recipe you should use a stand-up kitchen aid mixer. however, this piece of equipment is, indeed, a luxury, so a hand mixer will be just fine
preheat oven to 350. butter two 8 inch round cake pans, and dust them with flour
in a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa. set aside. in a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. set this aside, too.
in a big bowl, cream butter and sugars. add eggs and vanilla. add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in thirds.
divide batter between your 2 pans and bake in on middle rack for about 25-30 minutes, or until the center of the cake doesn't spring when you lightly touch it with your fingers
meanwhile, take a break, enjoy the sunshine, and make your frosting
for the frosting, you'll need:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
1 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tsp water
2 tablespoon dark rum, optional
chop chocolate and melt in a double boiler (in french we call these bain-marie, or, a water bath, you don't need anything fancy - just one big pot filled about half way with water, and a smaller pot that fits over top. the water heats the top pot and thus, melts the chocolate without burning). once chocolate is completely melted, set aside and let it cool.
in a medium sized bowl, heat the egg whites in your bain-marie until they are warm to touch. throw in your sugar and salt with heated egg whites and begin to whisk with your mixer until the meringue is col and holds stiff peaks.
add butter one tablespoon at a time, scrape the bowl and add melted chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and rum (if using).
and there ya have it, chocolate buttercream frosting! if its too soft (because it's over 100 degrees outside...), don't freight! you can throw it into the fridge for a little bit and re-whip it up before frosting your cakes.
the most important thing to note when frosting cakes is this: the cakes must be completely cooled. if they're not, the frosting will melt, and your cakes will fall all over the place. believe me, it's happened to me more times that one. so don't jump the punch folks, wait it out, enjoy the afternoon, and frost them when they're ready.
and so, to end my weekend at the vineyard, even though the buttercream was soft, it held up just fine in all that heat, and we brought it out to her folks, and their friends, and shared it in the breezy evening, beneath the stars (sans city glow) with willamette valley dessert wine.
for as beautiful as the pacific northwest is, my
heart is in michigan.
sometimes when i’m riding my bike to work early in
the morning, past big old houses with wisteria wrapped around the porches, and artichoke
plants lining the sidewalks, i think of home. i push the wheels back and forth
and back and forth, and in my mind, i spot a downy woodpecker on the huron
river, i watch the lilac bloom on the shore, i see the maples turn golden.
nostalgia is comforting.
because i’m all the way out here, i try to embrace
all of the wonders of this place – the explosive produce, the wild rosemary
bushes, the lavendar, the snowy mountain sides, the mossy hikes, the bald
eagles along the columbia.
but sometimes, no matter what i do, i can’t help
but think of home.
i think about the smells of my parents kitchen:
besides a good old midwestern casserole, my
favourite comfort food is my fathers chicken and olive tagine.
my father is one of the best people i know. he also happens to be one of the best cooks i know, too. he’s always
calm in his kitchen. rolling almond cookies, stirring applesauce, chopping
cilantro, washing peaches, listening to npr.
my father is from morocco, and i can imagine that
although he has made a nice life for himself across the ocean, he too, gets homesick.
so whenever i’m feeling a little blue, and
nostalgia just isn’t enough, i pull out his scribbled and stained recipes.
this one in particular always does the trick:
papa’s djej emshermel
1 4 lb chicken – unless you have a cleaver, ask the butcher to quarter
*make sure you get
the livers, too!
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, minced
¼ tsp pulverized saffron
½ cup chopped cilantro and parsley (mixed)
½ cup green olives
2 preserved lemons
1 fresh lemon
rinse meat in cold water, set aside
over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with ¼ cup olive oil. when
butter melts, sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes. add chopped herbs and
spices, mixing with a wooden smooth until evenly dispersed.place chicken and livers in casserole,
add water to cover.
bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about thirty minutes.
turn meat in sauce, giving it a good stir. now for my favourite – and
probably the most important part - remove livers from casserole. mash with a
mortar and pestle, and return to sauce. this adds a certain richness, a
creaminess to the sauce that makes
add water, if necessary, and continue to cook the meat for another 30
meanwhile, rinse your preserved lemons and quarter them. you can discard
the pulp if you prefer, i usually leave it.
after the chicken has cooked in it’s sauce for about an hour, or an hour
and a half, add the olives and preserved lemons. continue to cook another 5 or
at this point, turn your oven to 325. place chicken on a baking sheet - or a cast iron skillet, as shown below - spreading out evenly.
when the oven is ready, bake the chicken, briefly, for about 5 minutes. while it
is in the oven, turn the heat up on your sauce, stirring it, scraping the
bottom to reduce the sauce to half.
remove the chicken from the oven and place it on a platter, pour our
sauce over top.
serve immediately with fresh bread
now here's the thing: moroccan food is not to be eaten alone
there is a lot to say about moroccan food, and morocco
in general. it is difficult to summarize a culture, a history, a people, a
cuisine. although for the sake of a greater understanding here is what i can
say - from what i have learned from my family, my father, and my visits to
north africa, i have gathered this: moroccan culture is a mirror of it’s food - rich, multi-faceted, colourful, wholesome, complex, thoughtful. it is a culture of hospitality, of giving.
so whenever i make moroccan food, i do so for people i love. this time, dinner was a gift for my new roommate, jasmín, and her friend gregor.
i guess you could say, it was my little moroccan-american way of fending off homesickness, and saying:
even at the end of july, northwest oregon
in spite of the potential – or,
inevitable – soft rain, it’s summertime, and all i want to do is go the coast
and walk, bare feet, along the icy water, spotting pelicans and drift wood and
half broken sand dollars.
the pacific is beautiful – dark and rugged
and gusty, spotted with blackberries and hydrangea.
by the time brian, a close friend of mine, and i left portland, the coastal mountains were
covered in clouds. we’d both forgotten rain coats, tricked by the sunny city.
a little rain never hurt no one, so off
we went. ella, our friends dog, lead the way, forest bound.
without the clear sky, it’s easier to
notice what’s on the path, as opposed to what lies in the distance.
i love the way the flowers hold mist.
we climbed and climbed and climbed.
walking in clouds.
by the time we reached the top, our
ankles muddy, ella panting, humidity clung to our cheeks, we were hungry as ever.
i pulled out a little
snack i’d prepared the day before.
this recipe is originally from a
favourite blog of mine, smitten kitchen.
the version that follows has my own alterations, and can be made with any nuts
and dried fruit you have stored in the cupboard.
(this time, i was lucky enough to spot jars of pignoli and goji berries, both special and rare treats to add a
little something different)
so if you're walkin' through the mountains anytime soon, here's a treat for the top:
Saddle Mountain Granola
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup oat flour (made by processing 1/3
cup oats in food processor)
1/3 cup goji berries (or any other dried
fruit, i especially love cranberries)
3/4 cup almonds (add pecans or walnuts,
if you’ve got ‘em)
6 tablespoon melted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon water
preheat oven to 350
line an 8 by 8 baking pan with parchment
in a medium bowl, toss together the
following ingredients: oats, oat flour, sugar, dried fruit, almonds
whisk together butter, peanut butter, honey,
pour butter mixture over dry ingredients
and mix until thoroughly combined
place in pan and press down so
ingredients reach the corners and are spread out evenly