Monthly Archives: July 2013

A cake for summer

This summer has treated me very kindly. We began with three weeks in Colorado, spoiled by friends and family hosting us, sharing meals, playing with the boys, and even gifting Harry and I our first two night getaway since becoming parents. I read five books during that vacation. FIVE! I’ve also been virus-free, exercising pretty regularly, curbing some habits that have not been beneficial, adding a few positive ones back into the mix. I have been finding more space and some peace.

One of the books I read was Eat, Pray, Love. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it because it’s so recent and all, so just google it. Anywho, I really identified with Liz’s journey through Italy, during which she ate gelato for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and pasta for dinner. She was finally happy. I can totally relate. I am trying to indulge more, and not just with food. Welcoming the idea of a regular babysitter even though it feels luxurious. Embracing my desire to eat a pint of berries. Disciplining myself to an earlier bedtime. (This doesn’t always feel indulgent when it’s 9:30pm, but it does at 6am.) Exercising in the morning. Eating cake.

I have also savored a few days by myself this summer. One day I wandered through Pike Place Market and happened upon Alm Hill farms, whose particular raspberries were so divine when I tasted them last year that I later contacted them to find out the variety so I could plant it. Tulameen! As of February I have their canes in my garden, but we’ll have to wait until next year for their fruit. Alm Hill had rows of berries at their booth, and BEHOLD, they were Tulameen!

In the name of nurturing myself, I bought a flat right then and there. Because of the berries. Because of cake. My friend and former neighbor posted this beautiful raspberry cake recipe on her blog several years ago. I’ve made it two summers in a row, making it an official summer tradition for us. I love it. I love the cream for dipping, I love the tartness of the raspberries against the sweetness of the citrus-kissed cake. I was going to bake the cake regardless, but we were treated to a surprise visit with dear friends that night so they got to share in the fun. I converted them into Tulameen raspberry lovers, too.

IMG_7444 One week later, I still had Marsala. And orange juice. And sour cream. And I wanted more cake. This time I experimented, though, because it’s also boysenberry season and I can’t pass by a flat of them without serious regret. Since we have stonefruit coming out of our ears, the sweetness of the white nectarines seemed like it could be a good balance to the tartness of the boysenberries. I also like the depth of flavor whole grain flours lend baked goods and I thought this cake could handle that extra nuttiness. If you don’t have any whole grain flours, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this cake! Just use all-purpose. I think most whole grain flours would work well, though, including barley, spelt, rye, buckwheat or good ol’ wheat, as long as you keep the ratio 2:1. If I were, ahem, to make this cake again this summer, I’d try barley flour with blackberries and donut peaches next.

Anyways, I was so pleased with the results that I thought I’d share the recipe with you. IMG_7450

Boysenberry White Nectarine Marsala Cake

Inspired by Dana’s Raspberry Cake with Marsala

Makes one 10-inch cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup graham flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (I prefer Diamond Crystal kosher salt)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

A sprinkling of cinnamon (~1/8 teaspoon)

1/2 cup Marsala

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (12 T for the batter, 2 T reserved for mid-way baking)

1 cup sugar plus 1 T for the sour cream and more for a mid-way sprinkling

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

3 cups fresh boysenberries (1.5 cups for the cake, the rest for serving)

2 white nectarines (1 for the cake, one for serving)

1 cup sour cream IMG_7452

Preheat your oven to 400℉ and make sure the oven rack is centered. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Whisk the first seven ingredients in a bowl to blend. Combine the Marsala and orange juice.

Cream together 12 tablespoons butter and 1 cup sugar. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and lemon peel. Starting with the flour mixture, add it to the batter alternating with the Marsala mixture twice, until the flour is just mixed in. Pour the batter in your prepared pan. Place the berries and nectarines on top, ensuring that each slice will get several tastes of the fruit. (I had a six year old helper with the “decorating” so today’s placement was especially creative.)

Bake until the cake is gently set, approximately 20-minutes. It will still jiggle and wiggle a bit and that’s fine. Reduce the temperature to 375℉. Take the remaining two tablespoons of butter and dot the cake with it. I used my hands to break it into little pieces and place them evenly around the cake. Sprinkle the cake with a tablespoon or two of sugar. (I thought one was plenty, you may not!) Continue baking until the cake is cooked through (tester comes out clean), approximately another 15-minutes.

Cool the cake in it’s pan on a rack. Once it’s cool, release the pan sides and transfer the cake to a plate. Allow it to cool to room temperature. (Ha! Who can wait that long?! Only if company is coming…) Mix one cup of sour cream with one tablespoon of sugar (or another sweetener of choice. I think maple syrup would be tasty here, too.). Cut cake into wedges and serve garnished with sweetened sour cream and fresh fruit.

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This cake pairs well with coffee. I bet most Rieslings wouldn’t be bad, either. Or rosé. But I’m definitely no sommelier. Either way, there will be cake!

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My Balance with Growing Food

My kitchen currently smells like the odd combination of garlic, apricots, peaches, and nectarcots (which are so delicious!!!). Our beloved fruit CSA started a few weeks ago. The box comes Wednesdays and we have just a few items left. Three days in and we’ve almost eaten it all. I just might need to order a bigger box. The fruit is going faster this year than it did last year because the boys are now 100% nuts about it all. They even have little fights over who will get the last of the items. We have had cherries on pancakes, cherries with yogurt, cherries with chocolate. It has been divine. Once a week this delivery provides me with an adult version of Christmas morning.

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Nectarcots, apricots, peaches

I’m crazy about both the CSAs we do, so having them as a regular part of our life for six months a year has led me to think differently about the food I grow. I’m moving towards high value, low maintenance produce. I also will make room for things that taste dramatically different fresh from the garden, that aren’t grown by our farmers, or that we eat a lot of. Like garlic.

I harvested my garlic last week. It’s now on our kitchen counter curing. Upon recommendation of my favorite northwest garden blogger, I mostly planted the variety Music. Oh my goodness. I pulled one out and could not believe how enormous it was. I’ve never seen a bigger head of garlic, except for Elephant Head. It is huge and gorgeous and now my kitchen smells like garlicy peaches.

Garlic in ground

Rows of garlic in early June

Do you know how easy garlic is to grow? It’s pretty silly. When someone asked me about mine I almost felt like I was lying saying I grew it. I basically did ten minutes of work for this yield. You just put a clove in the ground in the fall and it sits through the winter to shoot up in spring. Hardneck varieties give you a delicious scape as a bonus (garlic scape & arugula pesto!) that you get to snip off and enjoy a few weeks prior to pulling the head out of the ground. It’s about as easy as it gets.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes

Do you have hesitations about growing food? Starting with something like garlic this fall could be a great way to go. I also highly recommend perennial fruit (berries!) and herbs because they provide a lot of value for less work than annuals. All of my perennial herbs have probably paid for themselves ten times over. A few more harvests from our various berry plants and they’ll have paid for themselves, too. (Also, even people who don’t love to cook can thoroughly enjoy a bowlful of berries.) Cheaper produce, like carrots, I enjoy planting here and there for the kids to harvest but mainly am leaving annual veggies to our fabulous CSA farmers. Along with being more economical, we get significantly more variety than we could grow at home.

My ultimate dream is to have a permaculture edible landscape that produces a lot of unusual berries that we gorge on, preserve and freeze for the winter. (Have you heard of jostaberries, gooseberries or salmonberries? Elderberries, BOYSENBERRIES!, huckleberries, and the usual suspects, too, of course.). I also want hardy kiwi, cherries, more varieties of plums, apples, asparagus, rhubarb, and *sigh*, so much more. Maybe even chickens and ducks. If this place were ours, there would be much less grass and many more edible plants. But, our landlord was only willing to let us plant where the weed beds were, and even then, he asked us to remove the raised beds when we leave. So, for now, I’m thankful we’ve got what we’ve got, along with a lot of opportunity to dream big.

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Music! My garlic harvest

Here’s my current favorites resources and/or sources of inspiration when it comes to growing some of my own food:

Northwest Edible Life – blog, facebook

Salt of the Earth Urban Farm – blog, facebook

Paradise Lot – New York Times article, blog,

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping website is lovely food for thought, and I always add to my dream list when I browse her book.

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The mother of all garlic. She will be next year’s seed. (My phone screen is broken, so forward facing pictures are always foggy.)

Our Yard: Before and After

In April we signed a lease for our third year in this home. When we’re finished with this year, we will have lived here longer than any other spot during our marriage. Even the two homes we owned!  We have probably put at least ten times more work into this house than the others, too. I’m not exaggerating. I might still be off by a factor of two.

We chose this rental after six months of seriously discouraging searching. Our first purchased home was in the same neighborhood and we knew how much we loved it, so we felt dedicated to finding a place there within our budget. But, most of the homes we viewed you wouldn’t even want to bring your dog into, let alone let your baby crawl in or toddler explore. One had a balcony falling away from the house, another smelled like it was solely occupied by dogs and cats. We were just about to broaden our search to other neighborhoods when I saw this place posted as the top line on craigslist. The price made me question even coming to see it because it was significantly lower than a lot of other area homes. But, knowing I was probably the first person to see the posting and that it would go fast if it was at all good, I jumped on it.

There were problems. Definite problems and serious ugly issues. The carpet stains definitely didn’t add to the unique ’80s turquoise color. There were pink, thick, greasy stained curtains that had probably been there since the 1940s and uncleaned for at least a decade. I’m pretty sure multiple generations of spider families lived in their folds. There were holes in the walls. There was mold on a bathroom ceiling along with a giant water stain that didn’t bode well for the roof. The baseboards were broken, mismatched and generally about as ugly as one could muster if intentionally trying to make a place look bad. The landscaping was weed laden, apart from the old, well-established trees and bushes, and a few lone flowers that survived years of neglect and incessant weed whacking. We moved in and found out that the dishwasher, oven and dryer didn’t work. So yes, there were a few issues.

SPRING 2011

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But, THE YARD! It had a very established plum tree, two pear trees, a grapevine and other gorgeous bushes. Despite it’s neglect, it was obvious that prior to being a rental it had been a very treasured, nurtured space. There was even a (now defunct) automatic drip irrigation system. We were ecstatic to have a place for the boys to play outside and I couldn’t wait to have room to grow food again. We knew a lot, inside and out, could be fixed cosmetically through serious elbow grease. We knew the questions to ask the landlord (eg, Could we paint? Could we remove the curtains? Could we fix up the yard?) and thought the hard work was worth the chance to live in our desired location at a more affordable price. Did I mention the land?

Moving in brought me face to face with my perfectionism. I wanted the weeds gone and I wanted them gone yesterday! I felt twinges of embarrassment when bringing new friends over to the home, thinking they’d judge us by baseboards. (As if I’d want to be friends with people like that, anyways! Sheesh.) I had a hard time tackling the garden bit by bit and not getting discouraged by the scope of the project.

After two years of serious dedication, I’ve come to appreciate the journey for itself. Thank goodness, because there will always be weeds. I’ve noticed that gardening is one of the rare experiences that I completely lose track of time. Harry has experienced the same feeling with pruning the trees and bushes. We both throw ourselves into it head first. Since moving in we’ve added four raised beds, an herb bed, several blueberry bushes, an artichoke, evergreen huckleberries, strawberries, and rescued, divided and transplanted countless other plants in the yard. We’ve hauled in three cubic yards of soil and seven cubic yards of mulch. And we’ve pulled a lot of weeds. My disdain for Morning Glory grows by the minute. But, this spring and summer we’ve been thoroughly enjoying the fruits of our labor as more flowers bloom, trees look gorgeous and we eat more food from our garden. It is so nice to live somewhere long enough to improve it and savor the newly emerging beauty.

Many people wonder why we pour hours of time into a yard that we don’t own. It does seem odd in many ways, sometimes even to us, but it is our home. We may live here for many more years. We may move out next April. Either way, I’m glad we’ve taken care of this land really well. We’ve dramatically improved it without spending a lot of money and we’ll continue to do so as long as it’s our place. We will be leaving the land and soil much healthier. No matter what happens, someone benefits. For the time being, it’s us.

SPRING & SUMMER 2013IMG_7334 IMG_7336

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