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plum crazy ~ part deux

I’ve been wanting to tell you and haven’t found the time. Tomorrow, laundry’s done, beds made, bills paid, bags packed, our pups are in the tenderest of hands, we’re sliding ourselves into plane seats to head across the country, across the sea, to Europe for three weeks. One week in Berlin, two in France. (Business gets us there, pleasure keeps us.) This will be our longest (most ♥ glorious!) vacation ever.

but first…

Plums on the tree, plums on the ground, plums in the fruit bin in the fridge. We couldn’t leave town  (well, he could)  without treating them right. And so this morning, on the day before we fly this coop, with dozens of things yet to do, here i am, making jam. Honestly! if that isn’t the height of

plum crazy

it’s got to be close!

This is my second batch of this particular jam, and it’s, well, sort of out of this world and into the next!

There will be but one photo

(because I’m only just so crazy)

and because I’ve already shared with you the basics of plum jam in a recent post.

This jam though is made without the ginger and warming spices of the last one (which was delicious), and in their place steps

Lavender, lovely lovely Lavender!

~ ~ ~

The very thought of lavender is quieting,

Calming.

You can sleep on it, bathe in it, and ought to if you (like moi!) are a bit wigged out!

And who among us hasn’t been pacified by a piece of toast smeared with seductively sweet jam?

This jam may even do it one better.

~ ~ ~

But before the recipe, a NOTE  to you before we fly  –

I’ll be uploading photos while we’re away. At this point I can’t predict whether I’ll actually post to this blog, or simply do a continuing photo story on Facebook. If you’re interested in seeing parts of our trip (Berlin, Paris, Provence, Burgundy) you can Like me on Facebook.

In any event, I will miss this connection with you and will be eager to share when we get back home!

My fellow-blogger friends, I’ll likely be able to read your posts but not offer much comment. If you see me liking you, know that I truly do! 🙂 

~ ~ ~

Lavender Plum Jam 

fills approximately 2 pint jars – possibly 2½ – or 5 half-pint jars

  • a total of 4 pounds ripe plums (or plums & plucots mixed)– pitted and diced
  • 1  cup lavender sugar (to make your own, see note at bottom of post)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons strained fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon slightly crushed culinary lavender

NOTE: If you prefer to make a freezer jam, you can ignore the canning steps and simply fill your jars with cooked jam, allow to cool, and then place in the freezer.

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a dark Italian and a pink lady

Hah! So that got your attention? : )   (Not bait & switch, I promise –  I’ll explain in a moment. )

I love foods that dance in the mouth! Several years back I determined that I was going to concoct a   r.e.a.l.l.y.   fine chutney of my own. The result is here….and, though normally possessed of a fair amount of humility which would prohibit me from admitting such a thing – turns out, this truly is a really fine chutney! (As well as a fine & saucy dancer!)

If you haven’t formally met, let me introduce you to Chutney. (For those of you who’ve had the pleasure, just keep talking amongst yourselves. I’ll be back with you in a moment.) Chutney is a condimentmeant to go with things, to enhance their flavors, to excite and intrigue the palate. It can be made with all sorts of ingredients, but almost always with some sort (or combination) of fruits. That’s the sweet of it. (Well, there’s generally sugar too, because we’re about to make a preserve and sugar helps.) Then there’s the spicy of it – you might taste warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, allspice, star anise, cardamom, pepper, hot chilies, etc etc. And there’s the sour of it – maybe a combination of vinegar, lime, lemon. Frequently there will be a bit of onion and garlic too, but you might not know it once it’s all cooked down. A touch of salt to round all the flavors out to fullness. And then it’s cooked for a good while as all the flavors mingle and the ingredients soften to jam.

What use would you then put your chutney to? OH! You’d dollop a spoonful atop virtually any Indian dish or curry… put it with meats, or poultry (chicken and turkey love it!)…put it on a sandwich (heaven!)…put it with soft, creamy cheese (try goat!) or a salty hard cheese, on bread or crackers, on your scrambled eggs, on roasted vegetables, or on cold salmon. Honest to goodness, it’s addictively seductively aromatically pungently delicious! And you’ll find no shortage of uses for it!

{breathe………..}     So! you were wondering about the Italian and a pink lady, right? Quite simple, really, and not nearly as exciting as you might have hoped… this here sexy little chutney is made of Italian plums (sometimes called Italian “prunes” not dried out though, of course!) and Pink Lady apples. And because a very good friend and I will be collaborating on some rather scrumptious (mostly vegetarian) Indian dishes this coming season, I wanted to be sure you had plenty of really fine chutney on hand.

In the finished jars of chutney you’ll see pieces of brilliant apple, golden raisins plumped, thin sticks of golden ginger, little dark dots of currants, bits of lemon rind, all floating in a sea of plum.

Below I’ll give you the instructions for canning this chutney, though it’s just as fine to simply cook, pop in jars and freeze. You don’t need to use the Italian plum (that small one with the grey purple skin and the golden fruit inside) though it’s a fantastically delicious one. (I think it’s the best to cook with.) But use any you like…and they don’t all need to be fully ripe either. Pink Lady apples are really wonderful cooked…they hold their shape and their flavor is outstanding. But again, use any that holds up well to cooking. I used a whole lemon. Yes, peel too. Trust me on this one. Everything but the very center pulp and the seeds.

The next several posts that will be coming out over the remainder of the week will be fairly straight forward…probably a little less photography than usual. I’ll explain the (exciting) reason why very soon. So with no further delay, here it is,

The Sweet/Sour Love Affair of an Italian and his Pink Lady

Or

Spree’s Plum Apple Chutney

  • 4 cups Italian Plums
  • 1 cup Apple
  • 2½ – 3 cups light brown sugar (we like the lesser amount)
  • 1 onion (I used red for this one)
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1 fat clove garlic
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup currants
  • ½cup raisins (gold are nice)
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 oz fresh ginger, julienned (½ cupful)
  • ½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preparing the ingredients:

Plums – wash, remove the stone and cut in approximately ½-inch pieces

Apple – Peel, core and cut into approximately ½-inch pieces

Onion – chop medium

Garlic – mince

Lemon – (organic is best since you’ll be using the peel) wash, removing seeds & center-most white part, cut into approximately ¼-inch pieces

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lavender blueberry scones

Imagine this … a little girl turning 4. She tells her mother she knows exactly what she wants for her birthday. She’ll ask all her funnest of friends to dress in their finest of fine. She’ll tell them each to bring along their favorite furry stuffed companion.  And they’ll all come, laughing and tittering to her tea party! The stuffed friends will have their own table with their own tea set and treats. { They’ll get to know each other this way.}  And all the girls will gather around a table set with floral linens, lace doilies, silver tea service, brilliant bouquets of flowers, all sorts of fruits in bite-size, and scones in miniature. { Some will even practice speaking in their idea of a good British accent. } And when their tummies are full they can all retire to the lawn out back and be blindfolded and spun and play pin the cup on the saucer; then they’ll take turns (being as how they’re young ladies) swinging upside down like monkeys from the swing set!

This was Clara’s idea of the perfect birthday party.

Not a one of us could disagree.

When Clara was first learning to say her name, she called herself Lala. We’ve a hard time calling her anything but Lala ever since because Lala somehow suits her best.

~  She’s a sweet little song in the mouth, that girl!  ~

And thus, we’ve named these little treats…

Lala’s Lavender & Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon lavender sugar (See NOTE)

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 stick ( 4 ounces ) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2/3 cup ( approximately ) buttermilk

1/4  to 1/3 cup dried blueberries

2 Tablespoons butter melted ( for brushing )

several tablespoons lavender sugar ( for sprinkling )

~

NOTE: to make  lavender sugar  (a treat more scrumptious than perhaps you can imagine!) :

Place 1 Tablespoon culinary lavender (you can find sources on line or I’ll share one at the bottom of the post)

along with 1 Tablespoon sugar in a little spice grinder. Whir til all the bits are fully incorporated into the sugar. (This will be a fine lavender-y powder.) Now stir this in with 2 cups of granulated sugar. Mix thoroughly. Store in a lidded jar. Wait about 2 days before using, and then use frequently – on sliced fruits (berries, peaches)! Dusting cookies. In your tea. In dozens of desserts to replace regular sugar. Once you’ve tasted this sweetness you’ll figure it out!

I’ve used a mini-scone pan for these, but you can make them without. Simply cut as instructed and lay out about 1/4-inch apart on a baking sheet.

~

Preheat oven to 375F (190C)

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the cold butter pieces and, using your fingers, squeezing the pieces of butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Allowing some largish pieces of butter to remain will add to the scones’ flakiness. Add the dried blueberries and stir.

Pour in  2/3 cup of buttermilk and, using a fork, mix only until the ingredients are just moistened. What you’ll have at this point is a soft dough with a rather rough look. (If the dough is dry and crumbly add 1 teaspoon or so more buttermilk.)

Gather the dough into a ball, pressing it together gently until it holds together. Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly. About a dozen turns should do the trick.

Before kneading.

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buttermilk skillet cornbread

I had a slumber party last night. You might think I’m too old for that sort of thing, but I’m not. Guinea Pig was on a business trip so my very good buddy came to spend the night. We had that gazpacho that I shared with you yesterday...though honestly, when we were finished, there was little left to share. Here’s the corn bread that sat on the plate beside. Caralina made a pig of herself. She wouldn’t mind me saying that. Probably because she’s like my little sister, and I made a pig of myself first.

Buttermilk Skillet Corn Bread

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup stone-ground white or yellow cornmeal (I like medium grind for this)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar or honey (or maple syrup – I used the syrup)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

Variations: You could add ½ cup of grated Jack cheese and ¼ cup of roasted green chiles to the batter too. I didn’t this time but have and we like it that way too.

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on the farm

Growing up, our grandfather (Big Papa) had a farm. Quite a large farm. It nearly encompassed the entire world for me as a kid…that and the woods behind our own house back in town. Most of the time Big Papa had a caretaker who looked after the farm property which was acres and acres of horse pasture, huge barns with hay lofts, tall silos filled with the sweet smell of fermenting hay, leather-scented tack rooms where saddles and horse blankets were hung, a milking barn that smelled like cottage cheese and cream, all kinds of old farm equipment, an old-time fire engine, a gas pump. You get the picture. There were woods there too, and sand banks where we’d play for hours on end. There were Shetland ponies and two big beautiful Pintos. A milking herd of sweet-faced Jerseys. A Brahma bull, just because he was fiercely fantastic. There were pea-brained guinea hens forever running from us, though they had no reason to. There were attics filled with beds and bunks, chenille bedspreads, old dressers and vanities with dusty mirrors. Old women’s clothes, men’s work boots. Old baby buggies. Indian blankets. The farm was a child’s paradise.

I was blessed to grow up free to roam. I explored for endless hours the woods out back, built forts with the guys. I believed there was a gang who roamed those woods. “The Dick and John Gang.” Mean as all get-out we were told, but we never met up with them. (I’m not sure anyone ever did.) I climbed water towers. I’d frequently ride my bike down to an old abandoned saw mill and investigate. I rode my horse, alone, and  fast  along sandy trails! (I was taught that I’d gone a step too far when I woke in the middle of the night with the express purpose of  driving my dad’s car down onto the beach nearby. The lights were on in the farm house when I returned. There was to be no sneaking back to bed. I think I was 12.)

~ ~ ~

Seems to me that we’re each formed in good part by the experiences we had as children, the games we played,  the woods or yards or streets we roamed. There’s no question, the farm runs in my veins.

About three miles down the road from we live now is an old family farm. The city next to ours bought it from the Luscher family and it’s been turned into acres and acres of gardens for the community to share. This time of year the gardens are populated by brooms wearing clothes. You’ll see. I went there yesterday to breathe and wander. I thought I’d share a few photos of my time there.

Click on any one of the photos below to enlarge it, or by using the arrows you can flip through them all if you like.(Click on the little x in the left-hand corner to return to the post.) I hope you’ll enjoy a few minutes of peace in the gardens where the bees buzz and people quietly turn over the dirt and tend their tomatoes.

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yet another summer salad turns to soup !

but then again, it’s not the first time that’s happened on a Wegetable Vednesday

I won’t be pushing any more gazpachos your way, I promise, if you’ll indulge me this one last time. We’re feeling lucky that summer is still lingering here in Oregon (and likely where you are too.) We’re not in any way ready to give up summer eating until the choice is wrestled from us. Gardens and markets are brimming with heirloom tomatoes, fat cucumbers, fresh sweet corn, and peppers in all colors and shapes. Herbs, in one last hurrah, are pouring over borders or tilting heavily on their stems. And those California avocados are…welll…sort of perfect. So, really, did we have a choice?

Brisk on the day it’s made…a little mellower on the day after…

a soup that requires no cooking, whatsoever! 

California Gazpacho

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped* (see NOTE)
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup fresh corn kernels (you can substitute frozen if you like)
  • 3 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt, plus more to taste
  • ¾teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 3 cups (or more) low sodium tomato vegetable juice (such as low-socium V-8 or R.W. Knudsen Very Veggie juice)
  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cp finely chopped fresh parseley

Garnish:

  • 1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced or sliced
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

* NOTE – (about 6 – if you can find heirloom tomatoes – or if you GROW them – by all means use them – it will make an enormous difference in taste! Enormous, I tell you!)  (Did you know that tomatoes peel with no argument if you mark the bottom with a little X using a sharp knife, then submerge them for 30 seconds in boiling water?)

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, bell pepper, corn, garlic, 2 teaspoons of salt and the black pepper. Stir in 3 cups of the tomato-vegetable juice, the oil, lemon juice and vinegar. Working in batches pulse the mixture in a blender or food processor until the mixture is soup but the vegetables are still somewhat chunkykind of nice in a soup like this to see what you’re eating. 

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a bird in the hand…and hope

I had the feeling I was running behind in life…Do you ever? As if life were meant to progress by a schedule – like an efficiently-run German passenger train (which of course, we all know, it is not) and here I was, about to miss it.

Wasn’t it Lewis Carroll who said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get?” Was it the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland? Or was it me? Certainly it was me.

The other day I was feeling as though, no matter how long I might live, I could never catch up.

{ O woe is me, my name is Pity! }

hmmm…

It might have made some sense had I asked, “But dear, exactly what is it you’re trying to catch up with or to?”  But of course, when you’re in “that mood” (meaning the complete absence of all good sense) you don’t ask such questions.

Sometimes though, in a life of grace (which is the life we all live, whether we know it or not) something happens. Something flies through the window to break the spell – the hex – we’re under, and set us right again.

The other day, I found myself in such a state of mind. And then…

Through the open doors of summer, a chartreuse vireo flew into our house. She was fluttering against the windows, seeing beyond them to the sky and trees, and trying desperately to find her way out again. Slowly I took my hand to her. To my surprise, she allowed me to lift her, fully enveloping her trembling tiny body between my two hands. She weighed little more than air. I walked with her back outside, then lifted my top hand. There she was, eyes wide. I expected her to fly. Straight away. But she didn’t.  Instead, she stayed.

She stayed and stayed as I walked with her, carrying her from place to place, in search of that spot where she might feel free again to fly.  Instead though, her tiny gray feet clutched tight to me as I spoke softly to her that it was safe to leave now. She closed her eyes and took long rests…opened her eyes and looked around…and then closed them again. Here she rested. And rested.

And so did I.

’twas perfect peace to me.

 My husband and I watched, relieved as finally she flew, un-hurt.

And in that, All things were made right again.

~ ~ ~

There is a fellow-blogger I’ve grown especially fond of – Shira – her blog In Pursuit of More …Living with {just a little} Less will be so worth your time to check out, if you haven’t yet met her. She has a generous and gracious heart. She puts wonderful, healthful food on the table, and gives us words of wisdom to grow on.

Before leaving for a family trip to France recently, she was asked to say a few things about


H O P E .

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buttermilk cornmeal pancakes with warm Cherry sauce

Earlier this season I was asked to participate in the Northwest Cherries ~ Tree to Table campaign, bringing dishes from chefs around the country to our tables at home. I said Yes, and then…life threw a few curve balls our way. I caught a couple balls but sadly dropped the cherries. Luckily (for us in the NW anyway) our produce stands are still teeming with beautiful cherries so I thought I’d bring you breakfast.

I’m still hoping to bring you one gorgeous dessert from a phenomenal chef, famous in these parts, but recently I’ve learned, while keeping hopes high, it’s best to keep promises to a minimum.

These are whole-grain pancakes made with cornmeal and white whole wheat flour, and it’s buttermilk that keeps them deliciously tender. They’re topped with a seductive warm cherry sauce scented with orange and cloves. It seems to me a fitting breakfast for this time of year caught between warm summer days and crisp fall mornings.

Cornmeal Pancakes with Warm Cherry Sauce

Pancakes:

  • 1 cup medium-grind (or fine to medium-) stone ground cornmeal (4 oz.)
  • ½ cup white whole wheat flour (2.25 ounces)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1½ cups lowfat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cherry Sauce:

  • 2 cups sweet pitted cherries (about 10 ounces – do not thaw if using frozen)
  • ¼ cup water (+ 1 Tablespoon later)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from about 1 orange)
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

* You may have noticed…I generally have a preference for mixing varieties of fruit when cooking with them. I think it’s visually more appealing, but more important I think the flavor profile is broadened and deepened…what one variety lacks, another makes up for. For this sauce, I used Bing and Rainier cherries.

Pancakes:

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and then whisk in buttermilk and olive oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. (Don’t over mix or your tender cakes will turn tough. There should be lumps.) Set aside for 15 minutes – or longer if need be, but not less than.

If you’re going to be making the pancakes all at once and then serving everyone together, place a large baking sheet in a 200°F oven, on the middle rack.

In the meantime, prepare the cherry sauce. Combine the cherries, ¼ cup water, honey, orange zest and cloves in a small saucepan. 

Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, cover partially, and set aside for the flavors to marry.

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