Rhubarb cake

I have an abundance of rhubarb from the garden these days, along with a distinct scarcity of compelling rhubarb recipes. Let me be clear: there is no scarcity of rhubarb recipes, just ones that satisfy all of my persnickety criteria.

I am a purist, so anything where the rhubarb is disguised by a pile of strawberries (or anything else, for that matter) is disqualified. Similarly, my goal is to eat delicious rhubarb so I can’t be bothered with anything that buries a cup of rhubarb chunks in a giant cake or loaf or the like. And I’m just not interested in anything requiring equal amounts of sugar and rhubarb, so that the finished result is cloyingly sweet with a hint of tang.

For years, I was content to make a good compote to spoon generously over some plain yogurt or a scoop of ice cream. And that still sounds delicious but I’m off all dairy (and pretty much all fake dairy) these days, and the dairy always seemed essential to that whole approach.

So this weekend I got desperate and resorted to the internet. And there on the front page of smitten kitchen, the second page I opened, like a clear message from the universe, was rhubarb upside-down spice cake.

I made this cake yesterday at a point in the late afternoon when I was too exhausted to use my arms or legs. It became apparent about three minutes in that I was in no state to be baking an unfamiliar recipe – pretty much every direction was following by the thought, “f*#& it, close enough”. But at that point, I was committed, so I half-assed and short-cut my way through. My only deliberate modification was to cut the sugar by about 1/3, because, ahem, me.

I think this is my all-time favorite rhubarb cake recipe. There’s a generous layer of rhubarb, mellowed as much by butter as sugar so that it’s neither cloying nor pucker-inducing. And the spice cake is the perfect complement, adding depth and flavor, neither austere nor rich. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my all-time best cake specimen. But given the deliciousness that came out of that wreck of a baking session, I am confident in the potential here.

Confident enough that I needed to tell you about it.

Now there’s still a pile of rhubarb in my fridge so if you have made it this far and still have any suggestions, please do share.

 

Strawberry glory

IMG_0846IMG_0844IMG_0848IMG_0851Each summer, I gleefully eat myself sick on fruit. Cherries used to be the start, and then the blueberries, likely followed by peaches… When those fruits that I love are at their peak, I embrace my inner glutton. And we can officially add strawberries to that list this year.

We have had good intentions of picking strawberries most years. But they hit that peak early, and it can be brief if a rainy spell settles in, as it often does in June. And so we’ve mostly missed them. Last year we managed a good stash of frozen berries, but we caught the tail end of the season, when they were best whisked to the freezer as quickly as possible. But this morning at the u-pick farm… strawberry glory.

My fingers are stained and my belly aches and a berry-smudged smile is plastered on my face.

 

Mmmm… mustard

2014-08-029I don’t think I had ever considered making my own mustard, but then the most recent issue of Taproot magazine arrived and it became a certainty that I would. Somehow, it took me about two months to actually do this, but there was no good reason for that delay and I’ll be making more much sooner.

(Aside: I heard about Taproot when they were launching the very first issue and it sounded like something I would love. I looked into it then, but it just seemed a little too indulgent. I thought, “that would be a great holiday gift” and waited for someone else to bite on my behalf. Then in a fit of impatience this past January, I bought myself a one-year subscription. It is so worth every penny and then some. Every issue is packed with gorgeous art and inspiring stories and patterns and projects and recipes for things that I have actually made. I’m currently considering splurging on a full set of back issues, because I still hate that I missed out on nearly two years of that goodness.)

Right – we’re talking about mustard. I should probably hold this post because there’s no reason it needs to compete with the piles of late-summer produce that are no doubt looming in your kitchen as they are in mine. But on the other hand, it’s really no competition, more like a satisfying antidote. It’s nearly instant gratification compared to most ferments and it takes literally a few minutes to put it together.

I made two versions on my first go – a basic yellow mustard and a spicy horseradish mustard. As much as I love a spicy horseradish mustard, I think the basic recipe has great flavor and versatility, so that’s what I’m sharing here.

Yellow Mustard (adapted slightly from Kirsten Shockey’s recipe in Taproot magazine)

  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 4 Tblsp raw apple cider vinegar
  1. Combine all ingredients except the vinegar in blender and blend until it reaches a paste consistency.
  2. Spoon mustard into glass jar, making sure to press out any air pockets. Cover with lid and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3 days.
  3. Stir in vinegar and move to store in refrigerator. Makes roughly 1 1/2 cups. Note that the half-pint jar on the left in the photo is a half-batch.

That’s it! This will mellow some over time, but it still has a bit of a kick from the brown mustard seeds. If you want something really mild, I would use a higher proportion of yellow mustard seeds. The original recipe also suggests that you could add a bit of honey with the vinegar which I didn’t do.

And now you have the perfect excuse for a round of my all-time favorite breakfast sandwiches: caramelized red onion, egg and sharp cheddar between two pieces of mustard-spread toast. Yum! I’m sure there will be some grilled sausages in our near future as well. What is your favorite vehicle for mustard?

Sweet taste of summer

berries
Clockwise from lower left: raspberry, elderberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, huckleberry

I have a couple bloody scratches on my shin, and a few more on my forearms. I have stubborn thorns stuck in my socks and a couple new loose threads on my t-shirt. I have purple splotches on my hands, and my teeth, and probably my chin. The berries are ripe.

Not just any berries, but the wild berries. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily tend berry plants of many sorts. But there’s a special place in my heart for wild berries. Maybe because their taste brings back a flood of memories of all the trails and wild places where I have sampled their like before… Or maybe just because they are such an unconditional gift of mother nature. They require nothing more than neglect (which I offer in abundance), and the willingness to wade into the wilds once a year, I guess. A minor tussle with the thickets and thorns seems an awfully small price to pay for the sweet taste of summer.

I’ve been sneaking a perfectly ripe salmonberry or six on my walks up or down the driveway for the last week or so, and keeping my eye on the thimbleberries that are laden with fruit but just beginning to yield a ripe berry or two. But then today I wandered a little farther off the beaten path and realized that the wild raspberries are there for the taking, and the huckleberries are ripening quickly, too. It’s time.

This weekend I will dig up an old belt and hang a bucket around my neck and head out on a mission to collect as many as I can in a couple hours and then stow them safely in the freezer for those winter days that require a little taste of sunshine. For today, I snuck in an extra break or two from my work day to walk outside for a quick snack of sun-warm fruit. Tomorrow morning on the ferry, I will enjoy a smoothie made with a small bowl full of berries picked less than 12 hours earlier.

Yes, it’s a sweet life. Mmmmm… summer berries.

A malady of meal monotony

It’s the hungry time, or more accurately around here, the time of year when I’m so overcome by root vegetable fatigue and bored with the same options in the pantry/at the store/on the menu that I resort to pretending I’m just not hungry rather than making the same thing one more time (I’m looking at you, kale).

This isn’t news to anyone, I am well aware. Hell, there’s the whole tradition of fasting for Lent that conveniently falls right when you’re either running out of food or the will to eat what’s available, depending on your circumstances.

There have been a few signs of the impending break – a bag of local arugula, the assorted raabs in the produce rack this week, the first handful of rhubarb stalks*… so we’re close. But you know what comes just before things get better? The low point. It’s ugly and full of popcorn for dinner and avocado toast for, well, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Mmmmm, avocado toast.  Yes, let’s focus on the couple of bright spots in the monotonous landscape of early spring eating around here.

  1. Avocado toast. How did this combination elude me for so long? Nevermind, I’ve been making up for lost time the last couple years. The recipe is pretty much right there in the name. Toast bread. Spread generously with butter, top with half an avocado, well smashed, and salt. Don’t skimp on either the butter or the salt. You can get all fancy with egg or cheese or other embellishments, but I’m a purist.
  2. Leftover oatmeal muffins. An equally enticing name, but there’s an actual recipe here, and it’s a keeper. I pretty much follow this, but my morning porridge is equal parts steel cut oats and buckwheat groats so that’s what I use. I second Molly’s suggestion of walnuts and dark chocolate chips – I prefer 2 parts walnuts to 1 part chocolate. Also, I can’t have regular dairy so I sub some goat yogurt thinned but doubt that has any noticeable effect. If you try these, don’t be alarmed if the batter seems impossibly thick; I was sure it was all wrong the first time I mixed them up.
  3. Emerald City Salad. Yes, there’s kale and cabbage here, but it’s is one of the few ways that I’m still finding those vegetables appealing. I use a wild rice blend and the vegetable mix is a bit different each time based on what we have around, but generosity of feta and toasted sunflower seeds are key.
  4. Grammy cake. Not exactly a staple, but perhaps a lifeline. Dean’s birthday was last week and he’s a chocolate birthday cake kind of person. This simple old-fashioned recipe fit the bill perfectly. Dressed up with a little chocolate sauce and ice cream for a celebration or straight up for an unfussy treat. (I saved this recipe after borrowing the book from the library last year, but just found this post that I could have nearly written.)

What’s been sustaining you of late?

* Who spotted the beginnings of the flower stalks in my photo here a few days ago? I had no idea, I’ve never seen it happen.