Yesterday morning as I was waiting for my bus at its stop at 8:24, ready to head into work, I felt the cold and fog nip around me (and that’s what it does, nip, like a bite) and I had my headphones in and I was listening to this song, and I thought, “oh boy it’s happened, this is when it all starts mattering, part II of the year is here.”
Part II. As in the descent down, the long stretch towards cold weather, thick sweaters, nostalgic moods, bob dylan, pale skin that makes me want to just give up already and hibernate until the spring, hot chocolate to make up for said feelings about not being able to hibernate, etc, etc.
I do have to say though, I’ve been looking forward to it (second time ever in my life). Because even though Part I of the year is obviously the superior half, what with that lovely, lazy descent up—riding the long, slow waves of warmth and sun and swims in the sea—it all has to end sometime. As much as I thrive and adore the summer, the only thing worse than summer ending is if it weren’t to end at all. I mean, can you imagine? The passing of time without having seasons and changes in the weather to measure it?? ????
To me I need the change to remind me that the sun can’t always be there—it can’t always be well under the sun, you know? I need the weather to remind me how to feel. And on a similar, but smaller scale, food both reflects and reminds this change too. For me food goes on the upswing come Fall. I love food year round (obviously), but when colder weather comes I get in reflective, attached moods about it all. I get really excited again about ingredients, I start flagging recipes and flavors to make, plotting future dinners.
This time round, so far, it’s been simple peasant-y stuff, but there’s really nothing new about that, I suppose. Nonetheless! Highlight #1: These potato cakes with creamy mushrooms recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi at The Guardian. Potato scones, potato bread, tattie scones—I really don’t know what to call them, but I don’t really have the patience to figure it out. I’ve made them twice now, the first time when I properly followed the recipe with mushrooms, wine, cream and herbs. And it was all great, too great to be bothered and interrupted with trying to take a photo for this blog (your loss, my gain, sorry). Then I made them again this past Sunday, patting out the simple potato-butter-flour dough and frying it out, only this time I topped them with with some chard that I sauteed up with bacon and a little bit of chicken stock and apple cider vinegar. It’s really an easy meal, and it’d be made even easier if you made the dough with leftover mashed potatoes. And as much as I loved both the mushroom and bacon-greens topping, I like the idea of these potato scones so much in themselves that I’m hoping to make them again for a lot of things—to be served under poached eggs, or as a side with some meat and gravy, or just by themselves, floury and buttery and delicious.
Moving on to Peasant Food Highlight #2: I made a simple French-ish-style warm lentil salad and topped it with a couple poached eggs and a sharp dijon vinaigrette and it was perfect. I’m not sure there’s anything else to say about it, because if that description didn’t do anything for you, well, then I’m sorry.
One Year Ago: Tarte amande aux poires / French almond and pear tart, and a nostalgia-inducing post about Amsterdam and Brussels (same Radiohead song that opened this post—told you my yearly moods run on a tight schedule)
Two Years Ago: Curried Lentil Soup and Baracky Road Ice Cream
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting (making a batch of these this week)
Warm French lentils with poached eggs
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 heaping tablespoons dijon mustard
In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water and bay leaf to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 or 20 minutes until they’re tender.
While the lentil are cooking, heat a good tablespoon in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and a good dusting of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of salt. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive in and whisk to combine.
When the lentils are ready, drain them of any leftover water, discard the bay leaf, and add them to the skillet with the vegetables. Add most of the vinaigrette, saving some for drizzling on top of poached eggs, if you’d like. Stir to combine and set aside while you poach the eggs.
[Poach the eggs. Google this or go call your mom if you don't know how.]
Serve the lentils with a poached egg or two on top, topping with the remaining vinaigrette and some chopped herbs if you have them.
Let me share with you something that, 100% without a doubt, captures everything I care and like about with food. It’s Clara’s Great Depression Cooking—a channel on youtube that I have regularly visited and watched the same short 5- or 10-minute videos over and over again throughout the past 5 years or so.
I don’t like Clara’s Kitchen ironically—like, I really, really enjoy her videos. I also don’t like it in a Kinfolk-y way that tries to harken back to an era where we weave our own baskets and sew our own clothes out of necessity or whatever-the-eff they’re all about. I just find something really calming about her videos; must be the way she talks and moves, or the stories she tells. It’s the sort of thing I like to watch when I’m in almost a half-conscious state, when the mind goes all buzzy and you just want something like a lullaby to surround yourself with. (Do you know what I’m talking about? I can’t be the only one like this. My other downfall when I’m like this is watching youtube make-up tutorials, but that’s a whole other story.)
My favorite “episode” of hers is Peppers and Eggs, which is part one in a two-part series with the following episode being fresh bread to accompany the peppers and eggs. If you read my blog regularly and like the type of food I’m into (uh, everything?) then I urge you to check that clip out. It’s so nice it makes me want to watch it over and over again if for nothing else than to try and trick myself into having some sort of personal connection with Clara. I don’t know another way to put this that won’t make it sound awkward, but I really like old people. I like their stories, I like their style, I like what they talk about. Maybe I’m being a traitor to my generation, maybe they just know things we don’t—who knows. All I do know is that when Clara talks about bringing a peppers and egg sandwich to school and regretting forever her decision to trade it for a spaghetti sandwich with another girl in her class, all I want is to be the girl that she was in that scene.
My twin sister (also a Clara fan) and I have always joked about making peppers and eggs, but something prevented us from actually following through with it—maybe it was all that oil she glugs into the pan, or the seemingly endless amount of salt she adds to the peppers. But this fall Lindsey and I came to our senses and tried it out, and I think we’ve made the meal at least 6 times between the two of us so far this season. It’s so good I don’t even think there’s anything I can say about it. Clara would call it “nutritious” too, and something about that makes me happy.
Peppers really taste excellent right now, so I’ve been picking up a couple every week lately. The trick to cooking them is, as usual, patience. Slice them up and then let them bubble gently away in a good amount of olive oil until they get soft, slumpy, and brown-spotted. Pour in the eggs, let it sit for a minute before softly turning it all into a scramble, and make sure to be liberal with the salt. It’s good on toast but I like it between two slices of buttermilk/potato bread, like a sandwich. Make sure it’s white bread, though.
PS This is for lunch or dinner, not really breakfast. But do what you will.
Music, lately: Been crushing on Mac Demarco lately. I’ll be seeing him when he’s coming through Seattle next month so I’m psyched for that. Let Her Go, Salad Days, and Ode to Viceroy are current favorites. His music sounds happy and chipper but his lyrics are pretty depressing—there’s something about that combination that I really like.
One Year Ago: Quiche Lorraine and Gâteau au chocolat / French Chocolate Cake
Two Years Ago: Quick Skillet Coq au Vin and Cauliflower Soup with Cheddar and Dijon Croutons
Three Years Ago: Best Banana Bread
Peppers and Eggs
2 bell peppers, red or orange or yellow
a dash of whole milk or cream
lots of salt and pepper
Slice the peppers up into strips, discarding any of that interior white pith and all the seeds. Heat up a good amount (think at least 3 or 4 tablespoons) of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add in the peppers when the pan is hot. Cook the peppers gently for about 7 to 10 minutes until the peppers are soft and floppy. They should get bits and spots of brown on them but if they’re burning or cooking too quickly, reduce the heat as needed. While they’re cooking, beat the eggs together with a dash of milk or cream and a good amount of salt. Add in the peppers, let them sit and cook for about a minute, then gently fold them with the peppers to scramble them. Turn the heat off before they get cooked all the way as to avoid rubbery eggs. Taste for salt (like Clara would). Serve as a sandwich with white bread or on toast.
Like most average, middle-class white girls who grew up in some American middle-of-nowhere, I have a thing for anything cool. And by cool I obviously mean old and foreign and something that has the potential to make me feel like I’m anything other than an average, middle-class white girl sitting in Nowhere, USA. (I would like to think I’m kidding because this is exactly the type of thing I love making fun of other people in my demographic for, but this actually probably applies to me too much for it to be funny.)
In the food realm, this has led me through what I have previously affectionately called “phases”—you might remember that long love affair with Lebanese food (still a sucker but shh don’t let anyone know it), or that love affair with French food and all other things French (also, predictably, still a sucker), or those other brief obsessions with the cuisines of Italy, Spain, etc etc.
Although I’m under no illusions that I’m definitely still the type of girl that’s destined to chase after that ever-illusive “cool,” for the most part I’ve given up trying to cook anything that I don’t have any cultural relationship/memories with. This is because I used to cook “French” food like a quiche lorraine and a beet salad and think I was being so cool and French, and then I actually moved to Paris and realized it really wasn’t the quiche that was making me more French—it was the fact that I was eating a slice of the quiche in my hand, standing in the kitchen at 4pm with the TV on in the background that decidedly made me very not French. I’ve had quite a bit of thoughts regarding this “not what but how” thing with food, but I’ll save a full explanation of that for another time.
Anyway, to put it in another way: how was I supposed to know how a quiche was supposed to be eaten—let alone taste like!—if I had never actually eaten one in France? How is one supposed to know what a nutella or speculoos crepe should taste like if he or she hasn’t yet eaten one that cost 2 euros from a stand on rue oberkampf at 3:30 in the morning on a friday night? Do you know what I’m saying?
I feel bad because on one hand, are we all supposed to just be relegated to eating only what we were culturally brought up on? Of course not. Like, there’s no way I’m gonna eat only tuna noodle casserole and fettucine alfredo and banana bread the rest of my life (bless you, mom, I had a great childhood of food). So I go on and make cool-sounding stuff from Jerusalem, or attempt things like this pflaumenkuchen even though I’ve never stepped a foot in Germany that wasn’t in an international airport.
So basically I want to use the past five paragraphs as a seriously inefficiently written disclaimer to this post. As in, I made a German yeasted plum cake called a pflaumenkuchen and it tasted good but who am I to know otherwise?
But Luisa Weiss is pretty much an authority on the matter, and I trust her. And David Lebovitz did a variation on the recipe that includes a cinnamon struesel scattered on top and he is kind of an authority on everything, so I trust him too.
And it is a nice cake, I think. The base is a yeasted dough that has just a little sugar and some lemon zest. It barely takes any time at all though, so don’t be put off by the yeasted part. It puffs and billows up in all its yeasty goodness around tart, juicy plums. I think it’d be almost a bit too tart, if it weren’t for the cinnamon streusel on top. All together though, it’s a fine cake. A+. Would and will make again, next year when there’s a glut of plums, even though I could make this cake a hundred times and I’d still have no idea how it should really taste, in Germany. (Maybe one day, Berlin?)
I used red juicy plums that grow in my backyard, though the traditional recipe is made with Italian prune plums. I don’t think the substitution was a bad move, because I liked the sour juicy bits of the cake quite a lot. Also the traditional recipe is made with fresh yeast, which I think would be the really proper thing to do here. I’ll write the recipe out using active dry yeast, which is what I usually end up having around.
7 grams (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
125 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk, divided
225 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
15 grams (3 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled to room tempurature
pinch of salt
zest of one lemon
700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) plums, pitted and quartered
50 grams (3/4 cup) sliced almonds
70 grams (1/2 cup) flour
70 grams (6 tablespoons) brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
55 grams (4 tablespoons) butter, cubed, cold
pinch of salt
Heat about half the milk in a small saucepan until warm (yeast-warm, not hot). Combine in a small bowl with the yeast with a pinch of sugar and let dissolve and proof for about 5 minutes. Small bubbles should be blooming, showing the yeast is active. Meanwhile, liberally butter a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.
Add flour to a mixing bowl, and make a well in the center. Add the proofed yeast mixture and mix briefly with a fork, incorporating just a bit of the flour to create a kind of wet paste. Cover with a tea towel and let sit for 15 minutes. Add in the rest of the milk, the sugar, egg yolk, melted butter, salt and lemon zest and stir until you get a shaggy dough.
Scrape the dough out onto a clean, floured work surface for a few minutes until smooth. Form into a ball and place in the buttered prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let sit in a draft-free, warm spot until doubled, about an hour or a little more.
Meanwhile, make the streusel topping. Pulse together the almonds, flour, brown sugar and granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of a food processor for about 30 seconds, until the almonds are broken up. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes sandy and begins to clump together, about another 20 to 30 seconds.
Once the dough has doubled, deflate the dough and use your fingers to spread the dough across the bottom of the pan about 1 inch up the sides. Place rounds of the plums into the dough, squished in at an angle and overlapping, in concentric circles until they line the bottom of the pan. Scatter about a cup of the streusel topping over the plums (you may not need all of it, if you don’t want to go overboard). Set aside the prepared, unbaked tart to rise and rest for 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
Bake the tart for about 40 minutes, until the plums are bubbling and the sides of the dough are a nice golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. The cake is best eaten on the same day it’s made.
Contrary to popular belief, cake is actually really good for you. I won’t go into the details of why because you know it’s all things like fat and sugar and vitamins and calories, blah blah blah—what a bore!—so I’ll just skip straight to the part of how nice it is to have something like this around.
This recipe comes from Nigel Slater, found first on Orangette (and later seen on Lottie & Doof). Nigel calls it a “pudding cake of plums, cinnamon and honey,” which sounds like a pleasant thing and turns out it tastes like a very pleasant thing, too. Dark and sweet and tart all at once—it seems to fit this exact moment when the seasons are changing and it’s both summer and fall. Make it on a day when the temperature takes a dip, when turning on your oven doesn’t sound like a death wish. Then enjoy a slice of the cake the next day (it gets better as the days go by), for breakfast, tea-time, or dessert, even if the weather momentarily takes a step back to feel like summer again. It tastes good in all weather, and it’s also one of those cakes (quite like the zucchini one I just posted) that tastes good any time of day.
It was one of many recipes that I started bookmarking because they featured plums. Plums are something I’ve spent most of my life avoiding, believe it or not. The backyard of my childhood home has all different kinds of fruit trees, two of which contained plums. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? No. The production of extra-juicy yellow and red-skinned plums seemed to never stop—we’d have bags upon bags full of them and there was always over-ripened, sickly-sweet splattered plums littered like hidden mines underneath the trees. The smell was SICK and sick like in not a good way, and by the way, have you ever stepped barefoot onto an over-ripe once-yellow-but-now-brownish plum as you’re trying to walk across the lawn? Yeah, as I said, SICK.
So yeah, plums were never, ever something I ate willingly. But then I moved to Paris for a year and became civilized and ate properly and now all my food tastes have changed (what a cliche!!) but really—after eating handfuls of les mirabelles following meals in the summer and early fall, they got to me. My favorite way to eat them is probably still as a sweet treat following a meal, but when you have as many as my family does, it’s a good idea to figure out how to pack them into as many different forms as possible (next up: jam). So far, this form of them, jam-packed into a batter of spices and dark honey, is a favorite. It works well with the red-skinned plums that are sweet and juicy but still tart. Slice ‘em thin and pack as many as you can into the cake.
For some reason I like my cakes in circular form and the only 9-inch cake pan in my possession had pretty short sides. So I filled it up 3/4 the way with batter—which rose up just short of maybe 1-centimeter under the top once I dropped in the plum slices—which left me with a little leftover batter. I kind of like how it puffed up around the top of the pan and got this addicting chewy crust, but I think for all intents and purposes, it’s probably just smartest to get a hold of a correctly sized pan.
260 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 slightly heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 slightly heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 pinches salt
200 grams (2/3 cup) golden syrup
2 tablespoons honey
125 grams (9 tablespoons) butter
125 grams (3/4 cup) lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
240 ml (1 cup) milk
350 grams (5ish) ripe red plums, pitted and sliced into 1-inch-ish segments
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, or 350 degrees F. Butter an 8- or 9-inch baking dish (one preferably with sides that are at least a couple inches tall), and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a small saucepan, melt the golden syrup, honey, and butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter has completely melted. Stir in the brown sugar until it’s a pretty homogeneous, molten-looking mixture. Remove the pan from the heat, and allow to cool for a minute or two.
In the meantime, combine the eggs and milk together in a medium bowl; whisk to mix.
Pour the golden syrup mixture over the flour mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick. Add in the egg-milk mixture, and continue to stir—casting away any doubts you may have about how weird and unyielding the batter looks initially—until the batter is combined, without any traces of flour. It’ll be a fairly loose and liquidy-looking batter.
Pour into the prepared pan and arrange the plums on top—the more you can squidge next to each other, the better. Don’t worry about pushing them into the batter—most of em will sink on their own as the cake bakes. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes, until the top gets a golden brown but it still looks under-cooked; then loosely place a piece of foil over the top and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. At this point, the cake will look almost set, but still a bit soft in the middle. Remove the foil, turn off the oven, and let the cake rest in there for 15 more minutes. (If you’re keeping up, by the end the cake will have been in the oven for a total of 60-65 minutes.) Remove and transfer to a rack to cool. Best eaten at room temperature once completely cool. It gets better as the days go on.