Monthly Archives: September 2010


Maple roasted rhubarb

This week, on ‘Ridiculously easy and therefore dangerous desserts’, is one of my favourites. In Southern California, where our seasons are beyond comprehension to the layperson, rhubarb appears in the spring and fall, but only for a few weeks in each. I don’t know if it’s the same where you are. When it’s available, my favourite little restaurant makes this strawberry-rhubarb tart that is completely worth feeling a bit sick and getting s swollen face, every single time. In fact, I would sell a part of my soul for that tart, no joke. One day I’ll get the recipe, and I’ll post it here, and then you will offer me a part of your soul because you’ll be so grateful. I will benevolently refuse because you need your soul. But I will accept payment in the form of massages, hugs and nice things said about me behind my back.

I was itching for something sweet tonight, but not something that would make me feel yukky. Usually anything that involves flour and copious amounts of sugar fall into the latter category, so flour and sugar were both out. But with 5 lbs of rhubarb in the fridge, and a creative spirit, I set my lazy you-kn0w-what to work.

This took me, no joke, three minutes. I think scrubbing the dish I roasted it in will take the longest out of the whole process. If you want to save even more time, then line the roasting pan with tin-foil. I would have done that if we hadn’t been out…

Maple Roasted Rhubarb

serves 4

3 lb rhubarb

6 tb butter

1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375.

Chop the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Place in a roasting dish. Chop the butter into 8 or so pieces and drop over the rhubarb. Then pour on the maple syrup. Place in the oven, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes or so. Serve in bowls with some raw cream.

Shared with Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade


Check yo’self


I was trying to think of all kinds of cool slang puns to do with fools. Like ‘check yo’self fool’ and ‘what’s happening fool’ and ‘whatchoo talkin’ about fool’. And then I remembered one day when I was hanging out with my brother and all his friends, and one of them said “that’s dope”, and I said “yeah, that’s dope” thinking that I would try out this slang thing. Except the whole room went quiet and everyone turned and looked at me while my brother said “did you just say that?” I guess my Scottish accent and grammar-nazi status make slang sound ridiculous. So I decided not to embarrass myself again and will talk about blackberries instead.

This past weekend was the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. A day of fasting. When I was young, on Yom Kippur we’d walk to synagogue– everyone did really, as September in Glasgow is usually still sunny, and you take advantage of these things when it rains most of the year. On the way to synagogue were these blackberry bushes. It was my favourite part about the whole thing actually, I’d lag behind and gather as many blackberries as I could. I’d stuff them in my pockets until they were filled to the brim. And then, when we were sitting in synagogue, listening to the services that seemed to go on forever, surrounded by people who were fasting and hungry, I’d wander up to the very back row of seats behind where all of the other kids my age would sit and chat, and one by one, letting them pop in my mouth, I’d eat my blackberries, still warm from the sun.

A fool is one of the simplest desserts you can make. The whole thing, from start to finish, including clean-up, took me less than 15 minutes, while my fish was in the oven. And it’s delicious, did I mention that? It’s creamy and fluffy and explodes in your mouth in a combination of honey and berries and reminds you of why summers are so good. And why berries are so good. And why rebellion always makes things taste that much better. For extra effect, declare yourself to be on a diet, and THEN eat it…

Blackberry fool, erm, fool.

serves 4

8oz blackberries

5 tb honey

8oz raw cream

1tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

Using a blender, or a food processor, blend together the blackberries, the honey, the salt and the vanilla. In a big bowl, whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Fold in the blackberry mixture gently, and spoon into individual serving dishes. Pop them in the freezer to firm up a bit, and serve after 30 minutes.

Photo: Hunger and Thirst (thanks Butter)

Elder. Immune booster. Somewhere near you.

It’s no wonder that the elder is a plant steeped in mythology. Just looking at the big bushes, with their clouds of tiny white flowers dancing in the wind, or with the clusters of blue black berries dangling seductively at the end of each branch, you can tell that there is something magical about it. This is a plant that dances on the edge of different worlds. And it’s not just beautiful– it’s medicinal, and tasty too.
The flowers appear in the spring, and have a multitude of uses. They can be fried to make delicious fritters, cooked into cordials and fermented into sodas. Medicinally, they’re one of the best diaphoretics I’ve come across. When I have a flu bug, I’ll make a hot elder flower tea, usually with some yarrow and sage, and I’ll get into bed and sweat it out.
Come fall, the flowers give way to delicious black berries. The berries can be used in a multitude of ways. In jams and syrups, in wines and teas, in cakes and ice creams and desserts– I use them just like I would any other berry. Medicinally though, the elder berries are one of the most useful things you can possibly have around, and I recommend having some dried or prepared on hand in time for flu season.

Photo: Hunger and Thirst

According to herbalist Paul Bergner, elderberry disables an enzyme present in the flu virus that prevents it from being able to enter a cell. In other words, it stops the flu from getting into your body, thus preventing the spread of the virus. In clinical trials, taking elderberry has removed all flu symptoms within 2 days in 90% of participants. Patients who took the placebo took, on average, 6 days to recover*.
I use elder in almost all cases of colds, flus and fevers– I start taking elder elixir at the first sign of any kind of illness, and it usually nips it in the bud before I even have to take a rest. I’ll also use it for infections that involve blood– especially where there are blueish veins leading away from the site. I met a woman once who had this strange purple swollen lump on her elbow, with black veins leading away from it. She was really concerned that it was a staph infection, but tests at the hospital had come back negative. Doctors were stumped and courses of antibiotics hadn’t done anything to remove it. It was starting to hurt a lot. I sent her to get an echinacea tincture, and take a few drops a few times a day. I saw her the next day and the bump had cooled down to a light pinkish purple, the pain was gone, and it no longer looked like there was a demon trying to escape from her arm (that’s really what it looked like!). Over the next few days the condition got better, but still wouldn’t budge. I added elder, and it was completely gone within 24 hours. I’ve heard stories of it being used for snake bites and such as well, but please don’t quote me on that, as I haven’t had an opportunity to put it into practice yet.

1. Flu: Elder elixir with boneset, and a tea with elderberry, elderflower, yarrow and sage.
2. Colds with heat signs: Elder elixir, plus elder flower, yarrow and mint tea. Often I’ll use honeysuckle, peach or rose too, depending on what’s going on.
3. Colds with cold signs: Elder elixir, elder flower and ginger tea. Plus copious amounts of garlic.
4. Fevers: Elder elixir, boneset, elderflower and yarrow tea.
Obviously each condition is different, and so different herbs would be called for, but I’ve found that elder works consistently, on a wide range of symptoms.
1. As an elixir. Thanks to Kiva, this is my primary way of preparing it, and I always have some on hand– it’s by far the one formula that I use most often (along with my injury salve… guess that’s what happens when you associate with yogis and martial artists :D), and it seems like I get a call every week from somebody who has run out and is starting to come down with something.
2. Dried, in tea. I keep a jar of both dried berries and flowers around at all times.
3. Cooked in a syrup. Elder syrups are really simple to make, have the benefit of being delicious, and they’re alcohol free  for those who don’t want to, or can’t use alcohol. I find the elixir to be much more effective, but the syrups have been used effectively for hundreds of years.

Photo: Hunger and Thirst (thanks Butter)


1. Elder elixir:
Fill a mason jar with elder berries. If you have elder flowers on hand, you can add some of those. I often add rosehips, which are also abundant right now. Then fill the jar to cover the contents with half brandy and half honey. Screw the cap on tightly, and store in a cool dark place for 6 weeks, or as long as you want after that.
Dosage is better in small quantities as often as possible– so I’ll take half a teaspoon every hour, as opposed to a tablespoon twice a day.
2. Dried elder berries/ flowers:
Gather healthy looking berries and flowers. Lay out in a cool, dry place, until completely dried through. Store in an airtight container, out of direct sunlight.
3. Elder syrup:
In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 cup of elder berries (fresh or dried), and (optional) half a cup of elder flowers, and a quarter cup of rosehips. Add one cup of sugar, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, and bottle. Keep refrigerated and use within 2 months.
Note: when harvesting the berries, it’s important to make sure that they are removed from the stems, as the stems can cause stomach upset. It’s also worth noting that a very small percentage of people get stomach upset from raw elderberries (cooked are fine).
Cautions and contraindications:
The red elder (sambucus rubra) is toxic. Please don’t use it unless you have experience using toxic herbs. It’s easy to spot because the berries are red, not blue-black, and the berries are usually ripe at different times to sambucus nigra, and all other species.
The leaves and bark have been used medicinally, but they are also toxic, can be strong cathartics and emetics, and in some instances have caused death. I’d recommend avoiding them entirely if you don’t have much experience with toxic herbs– the berries and flowers are completely harmless and are even safe enough for babies to take, so you can’t go wrong there.

Sources: Kiva Rose Hardin, Matthew Wood

, Paul Bergner (“The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal”).

* Paul Bergner. The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal, 1997.


Lemon Polenta Cake

When my little sister was very young– she must have been 3 or so– she decided to make a cake on her own. She dragged a chair around the kitchen, to gather milk, and eggs, and butter, and flour and cocoa. By the time we found her in the kitchen, she was sitting on the counter, covered from head to toe in cocoa and flour, stirring up a cake batter than she had made on her own. These are the kind of genes I inherited. The ones that drive kids who can’t even reach the milk to make cakes. The ones that drive grown up 28-year olds to throw things like cornmeal and buttermilk and lemon rind into a bowl on a wave of inspiration at ungodly hours of the morning, and stir like mad, and hope for the best.

Luckily these inspired things usually come out well. And this was no exception. It’s dense, and tangy. It’s moist and sweet. It’s nice hot out of the oven, but it’s a real treat cold, left out on the counter top, so that you can hack off a slice every time you make an excuse to walk by. And then pretend that you forgot whatever you came for so that you can walk by again. And again.

I actually made two different syrups– one with some blackberries that I’d picked up at the market (gotta love our year round growing season), and then one with some elderberries that I harvested a few days ago. If you can find elderberries where you are right now, I highly recommend that you do so. Not only are they delicious, but they are some of the best medicine ever. I never let myself run out.

Lemon Corn Cake

For the cake:

1 stick salted butter (at room temperature)

3/4 cup sucanat

2 eggs (at room temperature)

1 1/2 cups flour (I used sprouted wheat flour)

1/3 cup corn grits

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup buttermilk

juice and rind of 2 lemons

juice and rind of 1 orange

1 tsp vanilla
For the glaze:

1 punnet blackberries

or 8oz elderberries

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup sucanat

rind of 1 lemon

2 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter a 9 inch springform pan.

Make the cake:

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the buttermilk, vanilla, and citrus. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and slowly start adding to the mixer. When fully incorporated (and only just so), turn off the mixer, and pour the batter into the pan*. Cook for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the glaze:

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium head, and add the fruit. Add the sugars and lemon rind, and continue to cook until the sugar is melted and the sauce is a rich colour, but the fruit is still somewhat intact– about 10 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven, and turn out onto a cooling rack. When ready to serve, plate the cake, and pour the glaze all over the top.

Serve with a big dollop of fresh cream.

* If you want to make the cake much more easy to digest, you can leave the batter in the fridge for 7-12 hours, and proceed the exact same way from there.


Spicy sourdough nectarine upside down cake.

Another wild hair.

Yesterday, while waiting for my bread dough to finish resting, while watching Jamie make ten pounds of tomatoes disappear into pomodoro sauce, while relaxing after a long day of hiking and cooking and writing, I was absentmindedly browsing through the archives over at Wild Yeast, where I came across a recipe for a sourdough plum ginger cake. And as exhausted as I was, the idea of the whole thing got me thinking a bit. About using the sourdough starter to ferment the wheat flour. About how the air has been turning cool lately, and when I sit here and type at my little table, with the windows open, I need a light sweater. Or a blanket. Or a cup of tea. Or all of the above.

And what better way to usher in the transition between summer and fall than with a late summer fruit, wrapped up in a stodgy, spicy cake?

Yes, I thought so too…

Spicy nectarine upside down cake

Adapted from Wild Yeast

For the dough:

1 generous cup flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

6 tb butter

1 egg, beaten

2/3 cup sucanat

1/4 cup yogurt

1/2 cup sourdough starter

1 tsp vanilla

2 droppers fresh ginger tincture, or 1 1/2 inches fresh ginger root, grated

1/8 cup milk

For the pan shmear (well, that’s what I’m calling it):

2 nectarines

6 tb butter

1/2 cup sucanat

1/8 cup brandy

1/8 tsp ground cardamom

1tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp nutmeg

The day before you want to eat the cake, in a food processor, cream the butter. Add the sugar, and beat for four minutes or so, until light and fluffy. Add the egg, and combine, and then add the sourdough starter, and the ginger tincture, if using. Mix together all the dry ingredients (and the ginger, if using), and add to the mixer in two parts. Then add the milk. When fully combined, place in a bowl, covered, in the fridge overnight, or for at least 7 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350, and remove the batter from the fridge to warm up a bit before cooking.

Combine the butter, sucanat, brandy and spices, and spread over the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Cut the two nectarines in half, remove the pits, then cut each half into eight thin slices. Spread the slices over the bottom of the cake pan in concentric circles. Then give the batter a stir. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk (a tablespoon at a time) until it’s just barely pourable. It should be able to spread out across the nectarines slowly.

Bake, at 350, for an hour, until a thin knife inserted comes out barely clean. And it might not, as the bottom gets awfully sticky. But the butter that bubbles up around the batter will have integrated intself into the cake, and the smell will be so overwhelmingly delicious that you won’t be able to hold yourself back any longer.

Remove from the oven, and let it rest for 20 minutes, until the pan is cool enough to handle. Then turn it out onto a plate. It can be served immediately, or left to cool.

This post is a part of Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade


Balsamic roasted figs

Four years ago, I was living in a little house in south Palm Desert. It was summer, and… have you experienced a desert summer? It’s horrible. The unbearable, relentless heat that doesn’t ease up for months on end. The heat that radiates down from the sun and up from the pavement, that gets in your eyes and in your bones and in your blood, and makes you daydream about things like Alaska in December and plunges in the Mariana Trench.

There are, however, a few things that make it worthwhile:

1. The light traffic load– as everyone who can afford it has gone somewhere cool and green.

2. The silence at 4am that penetrates your soul. It nourishes your being right down to your toes. At 4am, it’s still hot, but at least cool enough that you can sit outside and drink a cup of coffee and listen to the world wake up, before the light stretches up over the mountains, before the sun peeks out, and before you’re sweating at 630. This desert silence doesn’t leave you, you know. Even in a busy city it still hums in your heart and, I believe, provides a small piece of sanity amid the madness.

3. Jackie’s figs. I don’t even know her last name. One summer she walked into Harvest Health Foods when I was buying my groceries, carrying a box of figs. They were the most divine figs I’d ever had. We got to chatting, and it turned out that she lived a block away from me. So inundated with figs was she, that I was welcome to stop by and pick as many as I wanted.

Every morning, on my way back home from yoga, I’d pull over at Jackie’s house, climb her enormous fig tree, and sit back on one of its big fat branches, under its cool foliage, and eat to my heart’s content. I’d eat until there was fig juice running down my arms and my chin. Until my clothes were stained and I looked like a mess. A happy mess. Figs that good make you want to be a happy mess.

When I moved to LA, I was ecstatic to find that there was a fig tree in our back garden. Come summer, I picked a whole bunch, and then sunk my teeth into the first one, expecting to be transported back to my happy desert days. Alas these figs were bitter and tasteless, and I was gutted.

This led me to ask a number of questions, namely:

1. Does Jackie feed her trees crack? (I am not sure but I intend to find out.)

2. What does my tree eat that makes it taste so bad? (Smog and opossum poo.)

3. Is there any way to feed my tree crack instead of smog and opossum poo? (No.)

When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I decided that even if I couldn’t eat these figs straight off the tree, I was going to find a way to make them edible. Because let’s face it, not everybody has mountains of crack to feed their trees.

I’ve been munching on these guys all day, as they’ve been sitting out on the counter while I experiment with different ways to dress them up. My favourites so far are with vanilla ice cream;  on toast with goat cheese; and with slices of cheddar as a between snack-snack.

Balsamic Roasted Figs

8 figs

1/4 cup sucanat (if your figs are super sweet, reduce the quantity, or cut it out entirely)

olive oil (to drizzle)

4 tsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200. In a roasting pan, quarter the figs, and lay out, skin side down.

Sprinkle a little sugar in the centre of each fig piece.

Drizzle with olive oil, then balsamic vinegar.

Roast in the oven for 2 hours, until the figs have shrunk and shriveled, and smell like something you most definitely want on top of vanilla ice cream.

Shared at Simple Lives and Pennywise Platter