Peach Blackberry Crisp

It’s probably too late for this post. Chalk it up to trying to steal as much of the end of summer as possible. It’s been a full summer of bike rides to the farmers market, family hikes, kayaking, barbecues and picnics, and trips to the beach to catch Dungeness Crab. Pretty much all the best the northwest has to offer. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it’s all real. Sure we all love summer, but there’s a special type of joy to be found in three months of unending sunshine and long warm days when you face an uphill trudge through nine months of grey rain.

Our first cloudy day rose up out of the bay today and descended on us with drizzle and a cool breeze that hinted at the beginnings of fall. Orion still wakes up every morning asking for “blue-b’s.” We’ve tried to explain seasons and how there will be no more berries until next summer but either he doesn’t understand or he’s just hopeful that if he believes enough, he might find juicy berries to cram in his cheeks. He doesn’t seem to mind the rain either so perhaps less fruit and more mud is in our fall forecast.

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Here’s some shots of a trip we took this summer out to Lummi Island that remind me of everything I love about the northwest.

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boats_waterWe took a ferry ride with the windows rolled down and our feet up on the dashboard and ate fresh produce and seafood. Snuck away for a paddle through open water between the islands and found porpoises rising up out of the water and a seal tailing us. Then jumped in the water to cool off and lay on the warm rocks on the beach. I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve swum in the ocean on the west coast without a wet suit on, and I don’t even need all my fingers. But this was just such a summer. Every where we turned we happened on views out to the Cascades with Baker’s snowing peak rearing up. And as is always the case, got home way past Orion’s bedtime.

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Under a Pile of Pears

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Dear Pauline,

I just came back from the Produce Auction with a gazillion pears.  They’re still quite hard but already edible and very sweet.  Any ideas for how I can use them? I’d like to do a little canning but am also looking for ways we can enjoy them now. Would love to find a way to freeze some for future baking as well.

Please help!

Mollie

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Dear Mollie,

Funny how a few thousand miles can translate into such big differences that change the small daily patterns of our lives. We’re still sneaking blackberries off the neighbors bushes as we walk to the park and just started eating tomatoes, peppers, and corn. But if I close my eyes and imagine the beginnings of fall, here’s what I’d do. First things first, wait until they’re a little soft and smell fragrant, then slice one up and eat it over the sink with the juice running down your elbows, only make sure to do it when no one else is around so you don’t have to share. There’s nothing quite as delicious and special as a perfectly ripe pear. I always find pears start out too hard and then when you turn your back for a day suddenly they’re overripe and mushy. So if you’ve got boxes and boxes, I’m sure you can find one or two perfect ones.

Barring that, here’s some other ideas.

I love just poaching pears as it keeps their beautiful shape intact but ensures a perfectly soft and juicy fruit. Here’s the recipe I used last time we made dinner together – it’s Ottolenghi’s Poached Saffron Pears. No pun intended, I paired them with a simple hazelnut cake and soft hand whipped cream. But I think serving these with a little square of ginger cake would be delicious too.

Pear Butter is an easy way to use up several pounds of pears. Similar to apple butter the basic technique is to wash and then quarter them (no need to peel or core them if you have an ever handy food mill) then place in a large, heavy pot on the stove with some spices. I’d suggest something like 6 – 8 pounds of pears. Add a little water to the pot, a cup or so and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Once they are soft enough to be smushed easily, grab your food mill and start spooning in ladles full of cooked pears. Food mills are a great canning tool that will push the soft parts of fruits or vegetables through a sieve while leaving the peels and other tough parts behind. It’s the kind of tool our great, great grandmothers probably used but no one’s invented anything better yet. Then grab an immersion blender and puree the cooked fruit until smooth. Here’s where the art and patience comes in. Add some lemon juice, probably a whole lemon, and then spices, I would recommend cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg but you could always try cardamom or cloves as well. I would recommend adding about twice as much cinnamon as the other spices but start out with only a teaspoon or so at a time. Stir them in full and then taste. You want just a hint of the spice, not too much since the flavors will intensify as the butter cools. If you need more sweetness, you can add a cup or so of either honey or brown sugar. Then put the lid on the butter and simmer over low heat for as long as it takes for the mixture to thicken to an applesauce-like texture. This could be up to three hours or more. Make sure you stir the mixture every once in a while so it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan. This gets really messy because it will bubble up and jump out of the pot whenever the lid is off, but it’s totally worth it. Once the mixture is the right consistency, put in sterilized jars and boil for 15 minutes. Then enjoy on toast or stirred into a muffin mix or into pancake batter.

I’ve made a very simple but delicious apple tart that I think will translate well to pears. Take puff pastry dough (which you can find in the freezer aisle of your grocery store) and cut it in half. Then let one half warm for about 20 minutes until it’s more pliable. Slice a pear or two in thin 1/4″ slices, cored. Gently toss these in a bowl with your fingers with 1/4 cup of brown sugar and the juice of half a lemon then arrange in a thin line down the center of the puff pastry with slices overlapping. Bake in a 415 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes until pastry is turning golden and the pears have caramelized. Oh and put down a piece of parchment on the cookie sheet.

I love this Wheat Berry Breakfast Bowl with caramelized pears, wheat berries, and a sweet yogurt sauce. It’s a great fall breakfast treat.

I’ve never made it, but this Ginger Upside Down Cake sounds lovely enough to try, although maybe on a colder fall day.

Likewise this Vanilla Brown Butter Pear Crisp looks delicious.

Some other ideas:

  • Pear and chocolate seem like a natural match. Make a chocolate shortbread crust and then fill with pear slices arranged in a concentric circle.
  • Caramelize some in the bottom of a skillet with butter and brown sugar then throw into your oatmeal or put on top of pancakes, or even cook into your pancakes.
  • Make muesli with almond milk and some grated pears. So delicious with yogurt the next morning after soaking overnight.

Maybe this is the chance to try a tarte tatin. Maybe I’ll even make one using your copy of Julia Child and tell you all about it. Let me know what you do with your pears.

Pauline

Whimsy Plum Cake

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The thing no one prepared me for about motherhood was how little by little over harried days and sleepless nights, you stop thinking about yourself. At first you’re consumed with how to keep this little being alive, how to hold him right, how to wrap his swaddle. Then countless hours trying fruitlessly to understand and anticipate his needs. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he wants to wake up. Maybe he is waking up because it’s too noisy or maybe he needs more white noise. Why can’t I sleep. Why couldn’t we have had a kid that slept more. Pointless hours that really never get you anywhere but still time passes. And then somewhere between trying to pick out what size shoes a toddler wears and washing diapers and making grocery lists to take care of everyone, you realize you can’t remember the last time you got a haircut or took some time just to relax.

A friend of mine told me once that after she had a kid she really didn’t care that much about her birthday anymore because she mostly spent time thinking about her kid. That sounded like sacrilege to me. I’m a big believer in the joy of birthdays but mine came and went last year and to be honest, I didn’t really care that much anymore. I mostly was thinking about my son and how lovely it would be to feel rested.

I used to be obsessed with shoes, piling them high in my closet and agonizing over which new pair to buy. I used to love taking the time to spoil myself with a massage or leave yoga class thinking about nothing and anything at the same time with only myself to worry about. Now my head feels cluttered with the hows and whens and whys of nap times and snack times and little free time to aimlessly wander or wonder.

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So I took a recent lazy weekend morning to make this cake just because and only for myself. It felt good and like a much needed step to shifting the balance toward myself a little. Sure, I still spend my leisure time doing things that technically nourish and take care of others. And I won’t hide the fact that the other impetus behind making this cake, besides wanting to eat something sweet, was the plums I had sitting on the counter rapidly over ripening. It’s hard to stop something you practice day in and day out.

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Rhubarb Crumb Bars

After my last rhubarb cake post, I was so taken with the flavor of rhubarb that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Big piles of the ruby red stalks piled high at the farmers market weren’t helping me get my mind off it either. We happened to have a big gathering at our house, which gave me the perfect excuse to adapt a recipe I’ve always thought would taste delicious with rhubarb, and boy was I ever right.

I tried swapping out rhubarb for blueberries in this great recipe from smitten kitchen. This recipe has been a stand by in my kitchen from the very first time I made it. This recipe is somewhere between a crumble and a cookie. It’s got a great shortbread type crust that’s just the right amount of dry, a rich gooey layer of fruit, and, the most important part, a thick layer of crusty, crumbly topping that’s so delicious I found myself sneaking bits and pieces off the top until my guests arrived. 

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Irish Soda Bread

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A little known fact about me – I actually have a cow named after me living in a small town in Ireland. Ever since I spent three weeks in County Monaghan in high school, I’ve felt a deep affinity for Ireland, despite having no genealogical ties. Ireland is one of those rare places that actually exceeds its stereotypes (like New York City, California, and Paris). It really is that green. People are that friendly and love to make you laugh. Ireland was the first place I heard a sheep – coincidently sheep exceed expectations too; they really say “baaa, baaaa” – drove on the left side of the road, and fell deeply in love with a country.

I recently re-visited Ireland during the summer. It’s a rare thing to find a place with worse weather than the pacific northwest but I can say that Ireland is just such a place. It was cold and rainy every day for the two weeks I was there in August. Interestingly enough I learned while I was there that in the Gaelic calendar seasons are defined differently. Summer is observed in May, June, and July. I’d recommend either visiting in May – July or bringing a sturdy waterproof coat, warm socks, and a sense of adventure.

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While Ireland isn’t known as a culinary destination per say, we managed to find some great places.

Places to Eat in Dublin:

  • The Winding Stair – a great little spot in a historic building along the quays of the River Liffey. Thick, old, stripped wood stairs lead you up past a bookstore on the first floor to this spot looking out over the river. The Winding Stair serves traditional Irish food like potted crab, roasted lamb, and seafood chowder that highlight ingredients sourced from local, artisanal farms. We loved this place enough to go back a second time. Everything tasted fresh with flavors perfectly balanced in presentations that felt every bit as approachable as they felt polished.
  • Locks Brasserie – Tucked away in a great neighborhood along a canal outside the regular tourist destinations, this fine dining restaurant offers fresh, bright food presented with lots of polish. It’s a great place to visit for a romantic dinner. Dishes feature a lot of fresh seafood and local ingredients.
  • The Bakehouse – a cute little café, perfect for breakfast and a pot of tea tucked away along the banks of the River Liffey not far from The Winding Stair. This bakery features traditional baked goods and dishes including lovely scones, fresh baked bread and giant plates of sausages and ham.
  • Leo Burdocks – a fish and chips institution in Dublin with several spots, we tried the walk-up spot on Werbugh Street near the Christ Church Cathedral. While there’s nothing healthy about the amount of grease your fish and chips are cooked in or the portion size, it was still an experience we wouldn’t have wanted to miss, especially eating on the Cathedral grounds.

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Lemon Rhubarb Buttermilk Bundt Cake

I swore once I started a writing a food blog that I would never write about the weather. It seemed like a sure sign that you just didn’t have any better ideas and were complaining because you had an audience. But when you’re living in the Pacific Northwest and spring is a slog through months and months of chilly rain, it’s hard not to find yourself obsessively checking radar maps, mumbling about the unfairness of it all, and dreaming of east coast spring.

I grew up in the south where the only nice time of year as far as I was concerned was the spring. And children’s books, magazines, and tv ads all agree that spring is about blooming flowers, bright sunshine, singing birds, and lovely pedicures in shades of pink. Here in Bellingham there’s no chance our toes will see the light of day for at least another three months, sigh, and we won’t be out rolling around in fresh meadows unless we wear a rain coat and want to get very muddy. Everyone tells you when you move here that you can get used to the rain, and it’s true. But I still find that after seven years here I just can’t quite shake the memory of what spring is supposed to be like and have to drag myself through April, May, and yes even June.

Facing cold spring rain lashing our window panes, I decided to manufacture a little spring of my own. One of my go-to cookbooks written by the owners of my favorite bakery in Portland Baker and Spice is Rustic Fruit Desserts. It’s organized by season so you can cook delicious baked goods that reflect what’s fresh at the market. I’ve gone to this book time and time again. I’m never able to get through all the recipes for a season so my copy is stuffed with post-it-notes marking recipes to try out next year, and I love flipping through it anticipating the fresh fruit of another season.

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