Last weekend I was laying on a bench in the park, listening to the radio in the sun, and this song by Sting came on. Someone may as well had poured a bucket of ice water on my head for how vivid the world began to feel. Within the first three seconds of hearing it, memories of my childhood started rushing to me like a flood: that stale smell of my childhood home’s living room carpet when hot sun poured through the windows in the summertime, playing with American girl dolls, being trapped in the purgatory that is the back of a minivan during annual 4-day long family road trips, those long sundresses my mom used to wear. Snapshots of memories came back in such a vivid flurry and it all felt so warm and heavy it made my heart hurt.
Oftentimes I feel like my life is ruled by one big pendulum. On one side I’m in a restless craze, trying to find and feel what’s new while on the opposite end I want nothing more than to relive all the feelings I’ve already had. It’s that pull between the foreign and familiar, I guess. It’s something that’s especially obvious with music—I get really into finding new music all the time just because, you know, the well runs dry! New music must be found! New experiences will get tied to them and then those random songs may (if they’re lucky) become sacred and special! Then I hear this Simon and Garfunkel song or this by Steely Dan or that Sting song and then I realize that everything I’ve ever wanted was there all along, waiting for me. They’re the ones that became special when I wasn’t noticing.
But this whole thing, that swing going back and forth from memories to the future, applies to pretty much everything. Movies, places, perfume, walk routes home, food. Right? You want to eat a new dish in a new place with people you just met until all you want is that meal your mom served you, that one you could recognize anywhere.
Anyway, about week and a half ago I made a 7-layer cake and the sun was pouring in through my windows like butterscotch and everything—floor, chairs, counters, cake layers, my clothes—was covered with powdered sugar and I thought, “yep, sick, I’m back at it.” So, lo and behold, here I am back at this space. I thought I was over it until I got that desire to write down some stuff, tag a couple of recipes and songs, and to start talking about food again. As you do. I really have no idea whether this blog falls into the foreign or familiar category. Like all the best things, I suppose, I hope it’s both.
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In other food news, a couple weeks ago I made a giant pavlova with lemon curd and whipped cream with pomegranates scattered on top and I also made some chicken liver pate by mashing the steaming hot chicken liver mixture through a fine mesh sieve (!!!!!!!). But that pate and pavlova were worth the efforts because THEY GOT POEMS WRITTEN ABOUT THEM—like, really, how often does that happen to your food?
I’ve also got some peanut butter cookies sitting in the freezer and I’ve got plans to make a cheesecake. On the non-diabetic side of things, I’m dreaming about making some stuffed cabbage, meatball subs and potato pierogis. We’ll see what turns up.
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.