Summer reading 2016.

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There are a number of factors I use to judge how much I enjoyed my summer. In terms of camping, this summer rates poorly– I don’t think we got the tent out once. Ditto for canning, boating and swimming. The weather was mostly fine, and my trip to Maine was great, although short… However, I like to focus on the positives, so I am writing today about what was the best reading summer in recent memory. The stars aligned so I almost always had a book in hand I was dying to read, eager to get back to, or excited to talk about when I was done. Here are some of the highlights.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel

There are three qualities to my ideal summer read: water, family drama and mystery… in the sense of “I have no idea what will happen next”, not necessarily a whodunnit. Set in Martha’s Vineyard (bonus points) and featuring a family confronted with the loss of their monetary comfort, I flew through Sons and Daughters and immediately checked out the author’s short story collection, A Guide to Being Born.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

Oh, my heart. I always say that I am a sucker for old men narrators and dogs, and this novel had both; the story is essentially the narrator’s version of his life story, as told to his rescue dog. I worried at first that SSFW would be a little heavy and sad for summer reading, but was so quickly drawn into the story and then couldn’t bear to put it down. There is such hope, and love, within this sad tale. The tone reminds me of two recent favorites: Sweetland by Michael Crummey and All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I organized this list alphabetically by author so I wouldn’t have to rank them in order of preference… but The Nix was definitely my favorite of the entire summer. It’s a little challenging to summarize this novel, with all that’s going on, but the author in a recent interview described it as the story of a mother who abandons her eleven year old son, and the son’s journey many years later to figure out why. There’s parallel political drama– Chicago in 1968 and New York City in 2004– as well as some of the best character development I’ve read recently: a college student who made my teeth hurt, because I ground them every time I read about her; a gamer consumed by his beloved online world; strange but sympathetic twins. It’s really a great story, impeccably written, and I did not want it to be over.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Lest you think I while away all my days with fiction, let me tell you about Tribe. It looks like another book about war, and I expected another “war is bad” warning, but that is not really the focus here. The author, who you remember from The Perfect Storm and other books, is a journalist who delves into why soldiers returning from combat are having such a hard time readapting to American society. Yes, some of it has to do with PTSD, but there is a strong argument to be made about the negative effects of the general anonymity and detachment we all experience in Western culture. Junger makes points that bring the problems beyond war, beyond the soldiers, and implies strongly that our current rote approach to welcome soldiers home is just not enough.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

A Cameroonian man, his wife and children are living in New York City while he works to become a citizen. We watch his struggles, sympathize with his persistence and hope, and turn each page wishing for good results and good news. We meet his employer, his immigration lawyer, his cousin and friends. I held my breath reading, understood and liked each character for different reasons, and enjoyed the heck out of this novel. Against the heavy backdrop of current political debate, it felt surprisingly positive and light. I hope it gets the same attention and regard as Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; it reminds me of both, for different reasons.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney*

My surprise of the summer! I was vaguely interested in this novel after reading that it has been shortlisted for several awards, but it sounded a little more murder mystery-ish than I generally like. Thank goodness I read it anyway! Fans of Tana French, of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries, even of the Showtime tv show Shameless, will be thrilled to find Lisa McInerney. The characters are crisp; they buzz with tension, anger, and passion. When I watched Breaking Bad, I marveled at the writers’ ability to blur the lines between good guy and bad guy, and McInerney does the same here. The main character is the teenage son of an alcoholic; his mom died, he deals cocaine for pocket money and street cred, and he’s in love with a beautiful girl. A bad guy, right? A guy who makes bad choices, for sure, but one who is kind to his friends, protective of his family, and a defender of the those who need some help. He is one of several complex characters you meet in these pages. I think this is a tremendous read for fans of mysteries and literary fiction alike, and I am secretly hoping Ms. McInerney brings some of the characters back in future novels.

Little Nothing by Marisa Silver**

I read Mary Coin by Silver last year and it was so good, I vowed to read everything she has written, as quickly as possible. Well… that hasn’t happened yet, but I eagerly seized the chance to read Silver’s newest novel, Little Nothing. I was expecting something along the lines of Geek Love or A Prayer for Owen Meany, but got so much more than that. LN is broken into four distinct periods of time and features the same characters: a daughter, her parents, the man who loves her and a young boy. The readers’ job is to discover how they relate to each other. If you’re like me, you will have a hard time putting the book down until you figure it out. With elements of comedy and magic realism, this reminds me of John Irving, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jim Shepard. I really don’t want to give away any more of the plot, because I so enjoyed unveiling the story as I read; I really hope this novel catches on to a wide audience.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

The tiniest slip of a novel; I read it in two hours on a sunny Sunday morning. Fans of Ian McEwan, Graham Greene or Michael Ondaatje will enjoy the perfectly formed story, the plot of which I won’t dare give away. Next time you are thinking about sitting down to watch a movie, especially if it’s a love story or period drama, just pick up MS instead. The only bad thing about this book is that it’s so short.

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

I read The Heaven of Mercury a few years ago and liked it well enough to check out Mr. Watson’s newest novel. I hadn’t read any reviews or summaries and, frankly, the gorgeous cover and my vague memories of his last book were enough to sell me on reading this one. I am glad I trusted my instincts. This was an absolutely fascinating novel about a woman born in rural Mississippi in the early 20th century with a birth defect her family and doctor expect will make for a miserable, lonely life. With fearlessness and positivity, Miss Jane proves everyone wrong. An inspiring story of a strong female character unlike any other in recent memory.

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So there you have my favorites of summer 2016. My top picks were mostly fiction and almost all novels, but eclectic in their own right. I hope that lists like this will help you find the next great book to try, or to gift to someone you know. We are barreling into a fall release season full of big names and “much-anticipated” labels– Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, Michael Chabon, Tana French, Eimear McBride, Francine Prose, Britt Bennett and Zadie Smith are just a few I am eager for– and I couldn’t be happier. My to-read list is so full, my friend D and I joke constantly about whether we are drowning in possibilities or weighed down by all the choices. I say it’s a good problem to have! Please comment and let me know what *you* are reading, waiting for, or loved recently. Happy reading!

*I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.

**I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Late summer tomato tart.

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It is hard to say goodbye to summer. On September 1st, the sky turned gray as if by command, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, Pumpkin Spice Lattes showed up at Starbucks, and photos of friends’ children in their stiff new school clothes took over my Facebook and Instagram feeds. Fall didn’t arrive gracefully this year– it descended. And I was not prepared. I feel like we haven’t had enough warm days. We only took our little boat out *one* time. I’m not ready to put away my white sweater, or my cute skirts, or my sandals. I’m not ready for stew!* But how does one lady rail against a season? I actually like autumn– the leaves, the cinnamon, the cozy sweaters and football games and comfortable sleeping weather. Rather than fight, I am choosing to celebrate the last few weeks of what is technically summer. I’m eating local berries or stone fruit every day. I’m stubbornly still wearing those cute skirts, with a cardigan now. And I am meal planning to make the most of local produce, with a focus on tomatoes. A very long lead up to say: this stunning, simple tomato tart is perhaps my favorite way to highlight and celebrate the glorious variety of late summer tomatoes.

It looks pretty fancy. That’s the ace in your pocket: it can be presented to a table at a family brunch or weekend gathering and I guarantee you will get some “ooh”s and “aah”s. Someone might clap! It smells good, like basil, garlic and warm tomatoes– and just wait until they get a bite. If you want to add a flourish or two, this pretty tomato tart is unbelievably easy to modify. You can use any kind of slicing tomatoes for the base, any kind of pesto for the sauce. You can make or buy the pastry. You can add other vegetables: onions, peppers, zucchini, etc. You can add meat: prosciutto, dry salame, rotisserie chicken or sliced ham. But I like this tart best as simple as this: buttery crust; perfectly ripe tomatoes; pungent, bright green, garlicky pesto; and supple fresh mozzarella. I could eat it every day in September, and I promise I will make a few more tarts before the tomatoes are done for the year. It is almost as good for brunch or lunch the next day, assuming you have any left over, and can be served cold or room temperature, much like good pizza.

Before we welcome bright blue autumn skies, put aside our cold brew in favor of spiced lattes, and tromp out into the orchards for pictures apples, let’s hang on to the last of summer with a sunny meal (or two) of tomato tart.

late summer tomato tart

Late Summer Tomato Tart (serves 4-8)

  • 1 9″ pie crust (my favorite is linked here, just leave out the sugar– makes enough for 2 tarts)
  • 1 lb. ripe tomatoes, cored, halved and sliced thinly
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. pesto of your choice
  • 1 T. olive oil (optional)
  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella, shredded or torn into small pieces
  • 1 c. Sungold (or other cherry) tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out the pie crust until it looks larger than a 10″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, like this one. Lay the pastry over the pan and press it down so it covers the entire base and goes up the sides. If you are short in some areas, break off pieces from other areas and patch. Using a rolling pin or sharp knife, go around the top of the pan and cut off any extra dough. Bake the crust for 10 mins. and remove from the oven. It’s okay if the dough shrinks down the sides slightly– I like to call this charm. Personality. You can see in the picture above the slightly uneven edges, but the tart tastes so good I don’t worry about perfection.

Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Remember the pan is hot, and work carefully so you don’t get burned. Lay the sliced tomatoes in concentric circles until they cover the base nearly completely. Overlapping is fine, if necessary. Salt the tomatoes very conservatively. Distribute the cheese in an even layer over the sliced tomatoes. Mix the pesto and olive oil together to make the sauce pourable (though you don’t want it to be too liquid, so skip the extra oil if your pesto is already quite runny), then dot the tart with pesto. Place the Sungolds around the top. Here is what the tart looks like before baking:

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Bake for 30-40 mins., until the crust is golden brown around the edges, the cheese is melted and golden, and the tomatoes are softened. Carefully remove the sides of the tart pan, cut with a sharp knife or pizza wheel, and serve immediately. Leftover tart will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

*Actually… since last week… I decided I am, in fact, ready for stew.

Finnish blueberry cream tart (mustikkapiirakka).

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I am jumping out of my seat with excitement over this tart! I first heard about mustikkapiirakka, which in Finnish means “blueberry pie”, in the Finnish class I took about five years ago. (I’m sure you can imagine, the week we spent discussing food terms was memorable!) It’s a typical not-to-sweet Finnish dessert, common in the summer when berries are plentiful. There is no recipe for it in my copy of The Finnish Cookbook, though I do see a recipe for savory cheese pie (juustopiirakka) I was tempted to adapt. In the end, I wasn’t sure about adapting savory to sweet, so I turned to Google; I found this recipe and worked on converting the ingredients to American measurements. The result is my Finnish blueberry cream tart, my favorite dessert of the summer, something I will be making for years to come. The Finnish name is a mouthful, but the ingredients are familiar and the method is straightforward. Finnish blueberry cream tart is a little bit of shortbread, a touch of blueberry pie, a hint of cheesecake, and completely delicious.

I am guessing mustikkapiirakka might be a new one for many of my readers, so let me explain it layer by layer. The reason I am calling it a tart instead of pie is the base, which is not a pie crust like you might expect in a traditional blueberry pie. It’s more of a shortbread, pressed into a tart pan to form a buttery, flaky, sturdy foundation for the filling. Now, let’s talk filling. First come the blueberries. Fresh, sweet, plump– but just a cup and a half will do. I learned the hard way about overfilling this crust; it’s not necessary, and it made a mess! 1 1/2 c. of blueberries should fit in your base layer in one even layer, with a bit of room left for the creamy filling. For the filling, I use creme fraiche; more of a specialty item, for sure, I enjoy using creme fraiche for baking projects with berries and summer fruit, especially those that call for sour cream or yogurt. It seems to sit right between those two: a bit creamier than yogurt, not as tangy as sour cream. Any of the three will work; substitute an equal amount of full-fat sour cream, or plain full-fat Greek yogurt, and you’re good to go. The finished tart is a little like cheesecake, though not as rich; sweet and pretty-purple from the berries; with a crisp, buttery base and golden brown edges. It’s really wonderful.

If you’ve ever made blueberry pie– you’re covered in flour and working to get that crust rolled out right, crossing your fingers the filling is thickened enough, sweet enough, enough to fill the crust… which you don’t want to be soggy– give three cheers for this tart. If you love cheesecake, as I do, but cringe at the thought of buying and using two pounds of cream cheese, plus sour cream, plus sugar– pump your fist for this blueberry cream tart! The Finns sure knew what they were doing when they put this combination together, and it’s time for it to catch on here. I’ll lead that charge; who’s with me?

Finnish blueberry cream tart (mustikkapiirakka)

Finnish Blueberry Cream Tart (Mustikkapiirakka)

For the crust:

  • 12 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. + 2 T. sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 c. flour (7 oz. weighed)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries
  • 1 c. creme fraiche, plain Greek yogurt or sour cream (8 oz.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil or spray a 10″ tart pan like this one. I am sure you could successfully use a 9″ pie plate, too, though I haven’t tried.

Make the crust: cream together the butter and 1/2 c. + 2 T. sugar until fluffy and light yellow. Mix in the egg, then stir in the flour and baking powder just until mixed. Turn the dough, which should be malleable, but mostly in a ball, into your greased pan and use your hands to push it into an even layer across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. It will look like it is filling the pan, and that’s okay; the berries and filling take up relatively little room. Bake the (empty) crust for 10 mins. and remove to the counter to cool slightly.

While your crust bakes, whisk together the creme fraiche, egg, 4 T. sugar, vanilla and salt. The filling will be a very thin, pourable consistency.

Spread the blueberries evenly across the par-baked crust. Carefully pour the creme fraiche filling over and around the berries until the crust is filled evenly. Carefully return to the oven and bake for 30-35 mins. until the edges are golden brown and the filling around the edges is set. When you jiggle the pan slightly, you should see only a slight movement of filling in the center, not waves of uncooked liquid.

Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for at least 40 mins. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream or whipped cream if you like, maybe with a few extra berries on top. The tart will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Horchata.

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There’s a taco truck we love called El Camion. It’s parked beside the pet store and near our grocery store, so sometimes we just end up right there and are practically forced to stop in for a few tacos. My husband always gets fish tacos, but my choice is lengua (beef tongue) or cochinita pibil (seasoned pork) with the hottest salsa they have. I need to have something refreshing to cool my mouth… and I quickly learned the best option is a tall cup of horchata. Made with rice and sometimes almonds, cinnamon and sugar and served cold cold cold with lots of ice, horchata is creamy, sweet, delicious and thirst-quenching… and hands-down my favorite item on El Camion’s menu. It always tastes good, and it’s baffling why I waited so long to start making my own.

Imagine: a steady supply of ice cold goodness on the hottest days of the year! No need to venture into Ballard, and so much more affordable than buying a cup a day from El Camion. Horchata takes more planning than effort to make. I researched a handful of recipes before coming up with my own, and really like the ratio of rice and almonds I share below. Some variations include using only rice, exchanging almonds for an equal amount of raw cashews, or flipping the proportions of rice and nuts. I think it comes down to personal preference, and maybe price or ingredient availability, but any of these options will yield a great horchata. I used my Blendtec to pulverize the rice, but I think a strong food processor would also work. I chose to use a fine mesh strainer instead of a nut milk bag, which leaves some grittiness in the final product. I like that– it somehow seems more substantial, and the texture doesn’t bother me at all. If you want a smoother horchata, make sure to take the extra time to run it through a nut milk bag, or several layers of cheesecloth.

Whether it’s Taco Tuesday or just a warm summer evening, you will love having horchata in your refrigerator for a quick, cold drink. I am going to make a batch each week for the remainder of the summer, and treat myself! The summer is speeding by, and I want to enjoy every moment I can.

horchata

Horchata (adapted from Food52 Vegan and Yucatan)

  • 1 c. long-grain white rice
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 3″ long, broken into smaller pieces
  • 1/2 c. raw almonds
  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt

Place the rice and cinnamon stick into the jar of your blender and run on a medium speed until broken up. You don’t want fine dust, but you do want tiny, sand-like particles. Add the raw almonds, whole or sliced is fine, and 2 c. of water to the rice. Swirl to mix and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 hours.

Add the sugar, salt and remaining 2 c. water to the blender jar. Blend on medium-high speed for 1-2 mins. until smooth and slightly frothy. It should look like milk with sediment at the bottom of the jar. Set a fine mesh strainer, nut milk bag or cheesecloth-covered colander over a large bowl that will hold at least 4 c. liquid. Pour the contents of the blender into your straining set up and allow to drip for about 30 mins. If you push the mixture through with a spoon, you will get a grainier horchata, so try to just let it go. Discard the solids and store the horchata in a large jar or covered pitcher in the refrigerator. Serve over ice. Will keep in the refrigerator for about 5-7 days… if it lasts that long!

Creamy chickpea salad with dill & cucumber.

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I created this creamy chickpea salad on a hot day, wanting something crunchy, cool and refreshing to accompany my otherwise-grilled dinner. It tasted delicious then, and has made repeat appearances several times this summer. I don’t use chickpeas often enough in salads, but love to find them included– our grocery store makes a wonderful tabbouleh-style salad with chickpeas added, and it’s always just what I want for lunch on a hot day. When I gathered the ingredients for my chickpea salad, I was thinking about that deli option I enjoy so much, and also a cucumber salad with dill and paprika I get from a local Russian dumpling house. I took elements of each and ended up here.

Although you can soak and cook your own chickpeas, I prefer the uniformity of canned in this salad. Sometimes my home-cooked garbanzos get a little soft and lose their shape. There’s nothing wrong with that… but using canned beans takes some of the guesswork out of what the final dish will look like. For the cucumbers, use whatever is plentiful in the garden: salad cukes, English, Persian, Kirby, lemon, etc. Any crunchy cucumber will do! I thought about using yogurt for the sauce, and I think you could absolutely sub it in, but I love the tang and smoother consistency of sour cream, especially with crisp cucumbers and dill. Finally, a note about piment d’espelette, a chile powder from the Basque region of southern France. It can be hard to find, and somewhat expensive, but if you have some, it is so good in this salad. The slight heat and subtle smokiness are perfect against the creamy, crunchy backdrop of the other ingredients. If you don’t have any, I think smoked paprika would work just as well, and 1/4 tsp. would be plenty. The spice is intended to be a garnish more than a main ingredient.

As we settle into the quiet, insistent heat of mid-August, having eaten many potato salads, much macaroni salad and all the corn, it’s nice to have a change-of-pace choice to try. In 10 mins. flat, you can have this bright, fresh chickpea salad on the table for dinner. It goes with just about anything or is substantial alone; it’s pretty, quick, and delicious. What more could you want?

creamy chickpeas with dill and cucumber

Creamy Chickpea Salad with Dill & Cucumber

  • 1 1/2 c. cucumbers, seeded, salted and drained (from about 2 large salad cukes, 1 English, or 4-5 Kirby)
  • 1 14 oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 c. sliced scallions
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 3 T. fresh dill, finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. piment d’espelette
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • feta to garnish (optional)

Start by preparing the cucumbers. Peel them or don’t depending on your preference and the type of cucumber you’re using. Cut each cucumber in half lengthwise, then cut each half in half lengthwise. Cut out the seeds, if your variety has big, soft, watery seed centers. For Persian or English, you might not have as many to worry about. Cut each length into half-moons and place in a colander. Sprinkle with kosher salt, about 1/2 tsp. Shake to distribute and let the cucumbers sit while you prepare the rest of the salad, over a paper towel or in the sink, as they will lose some moisture. The purpose of this step is to prevent excess moisture from diluting your pretty salad.

Make the dressing by whisking together sour cream, lemon juice, fresh dill and a few cracks of fresh black pepper.

To a large bowl, add the drained and rinsed chickpeas. Rinse the cucumbers and pat them dry with a paper towel or cotton towel; add them to the chickpeas. Add in the scallions; toss everything together. Drizzle with dressing and toss to combine. Garnish with piment d’espelette and a pinch more kosher salt, if necessary. Serve immediately. Some crumbled feta is a decadent addition to this salad, if you like. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for 2-3 days.

Blackberry buckle.

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Summer fruit shines in simple, rustic desserts. You know about pie and cake, probably also crisp, crumble, cobbler, and compote. But have you ever had buckle? If not, this is a great time of year to give one a try. Buckles are like a cross between cake and crisp, with a whole lot of fresh fruit providing flavor and texture. They start with a base layer of dense, vanilla-scented cake batter, which is then studded with fruit and covered with a spiced crumb topping that “buckles” the cake. I think blackberry buckle may be the one I enjoy most. Blackberries are abundant in Seattle in August, but an equal amount of blueberries, diced peaches, sliced plums, or a mix of fruits, works very well. I like to have the flavor of both cardamom and cinnamon in the topping, especially with blackberries, but you can use all cinnamon, or exchange nutmeg for cardamom, if you prefer. Have fun experimenting with buckles this summer, and make sure this blackberry version is on your to-try list.

blackberry buckle

Blackberry Buckle (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)

For the crumb topping:

  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom, preferably freshly ground
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the cake:

  • 1 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 c. fresh blackberries

Make the crumb topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, cardamom and a pinch of salt. Add the cold pieces of butter and use a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients. Stop when you reach the consistency of wet sand and can still see pea-sized pieces of butter distributed throughout the mixture. Refrigerate your crumb topping while you make the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2 qt. casserole or baking dish with butter or baking spray. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and kosher salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the softened butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3-5 mins. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat just until combined. Gently mix in the sifted dry ingredients, with the mixer on low speed, or by hand. The batter will be fairly thick. Spoon the batter into your greased baking dish and spread into an even layer. Top with blackberries, then sprinkle the crumb topping evenly across the fruit.

cake batter with berries to top

Bake for 55-60 mins., until the topping is golden brown and a skewer into the cake layer comes out clean. Cool slightly, but serve warm if you can, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a little whipped cream. Store, covered, at room temperature for 24-48 hours, or in the refrigerator for a few days more. Leftover buckle is remarkably good for breakfast.🙂 Enjoy!

Golden summer salad with nectarines and beets.

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This salad came to me in a dream. I actually dreamed about roasted beets in a fresh garden salad, with other ingredients in the same color palette. As dreams go, it wasn’t so bad; as salads go, this is a new favorite.

Roasted golden beets are a little milder in flavor than their red counterparts but have the same texture and earthy notes. In this salad, I soak them in the vinaigrette for a few hours, so they’re essentially quick-pickled. Spooned over the top of your other salad components, they act as both the star of the dish and the dressing. The lettuce you choose should be tender and a little crisp. Our friends at Present Tense Farm grow the most beautiful romaine and red leaf lettuces; I used one of the latter in the salad pictured. To add sweetness, juiciness and more golden color, I use nectarines. Stone fruit is just as welcome in savory dishes as sweet. Putting peaches and nectarines in salads, on burgers, on pizza, etc. is a little bit of an obsession this summer, and I haven’t found one dish yet where they seem out of place. Nectarines don’t need to be peeled; if you choose to substitute a peach, peeling might be a good idea, but is certainly not a strict requirement. For texture, the shallots add a little bit of crispy chew and the walnuts add crunch. If you really want to gild the lily, add some crumbled soft goat cheese to the mix.

Served with grilled chicken, warm focaccia, simple flatbread, or on its own, my golden summer salad will be a welcome addition to the table. I can only hope my dreams this summer will continue to be so fruitful.

golden summer salad with beets & nectarines

Golden Summer Salad with Nectarines and Beets

For the salad:

  • 1 lb. golden beets, roasted, peeled and diced
  • 1 – 2 ripe nectarines, sliced into wedges
  • 1 head of romaine or red leaf lettuce, washed and torn
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 2 – 3 oz. soft goat cheese (optional)

For the dressing:

  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • ~ 1/2 c. olive oil

To roast the beets: Cut off leaves and stem and any long roots. Do not peel. Try to get the beets similarly sized; if your bunch is two large beets and two small, halve the large beets. Wrap each beet/half in tin foil. Heat the oven to 400 degrees and cook for 60-75 mins. The beets are done when you can pierce them easily with a fork. Cool to room temperature and then store, still in the foil, in the refrigerator until needed. You can roast the beets 2-3 days in advance, and should plan to roast them the day before you make your salad, so they can be chilled overnight.

To make the dressing: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard and brown sugar. Add the cider vinegar, a pinch of kosher salt and a few cracks of fresh black pepper. Whisk to combine. Slowly pour in the 1/2 c. olive oil as you whisk; stop to taste when you’ve added about 3/4 of the oil, and continue adding to taste.

Unwrap your roasted beets and use your fingers and a dull knife to slip off the skins. Dice the cold beets and add to your dressing. Toss to combine, cover loosely, and set aside for 2-4 hours at room temperature. This step can also be done up to a day in advance. Bring the beets and dressing back to room temperature before proceeding.

diced roasted beets in dressing: quick-pickled!

In a small skillet, heat 1 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced shallots in one layer and cook, untouched, until they are noticeably golden brown. Turn the shallots and continue cooking for a minute or so. Don’t be shy about color here: you don’t want to burn them, but dark shallots are sweet and so crispy! When they’re done, turn out onto a plate lined with paper towel. Add the walnuts to the remaining oil in the skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned.

To assemble the salad, put torn lettuce onto a large platter. Place the nectarine wedges on the greens, then spoon beets over the top. Dot with shallots and walnuts, and chevre if using. Pour any remaining dressing over the top and serve immediately. This salad is best the day you make it.

Brown sugar bourbon ice cream with roasted apricots.

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A week ago Sunday was National Ice Cream Day, and my recipe testing plans lined up so that I celebrated this important holiday: I made brown sugar bourbon ice cream with roasted apricots, and was it ever worthy of a celebration! I’ve had the idea for this ice cream for a few months and was just waiting for local apricots to ripen so I could make a batch. I was able to get some at the farmers’ market; they were fragrant, rosy-peach in color, ripe but not overly so– in short, perfect for what I envisioned. I love roasted stone fruit. With apricots, just a tiny bit of butter and sugar helps all the subtle floral notes come out, natural sugars caramelize and the juice factor multiply by about ten. Mixed with an ice cream base that shores up the sweetness, highlights those caramel flavors and adds creaminess… well, you have yourself a homemade ice cream home run.

The truth is brown sugar bourbon ice cream is a home run without the apricots. I made a batch for a work potluck and was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response of my coworkers. There were second helpings taken, comparisons to a popular local ice cream shop… I was thrilled. Brown sugar gives the ice cream a subtle caramel flavor, and bourbon enhances the vanilla flavor. It won’t freeze properly if you add too much bourbon, so don’t worry about it being too boozy for the kiddos– unless you need an excuse to save it for the grown-ups. It is rich, creamy and decadent; a spectacular and special homemade treat. My husband declared it immediately the best ice cream I’ve ever made. On the flip side, the roasted apricots are great with pound cake, with biscuits and cream a la shortcake, or stirred into yogurt. This recipe gives you so many options.

On a hot summer day, it’s hard to say no to ice cream, and even harder when it is as delicious as this brown sugar bourbon ice cream. While apricots are at their best, treat yourself, your friends and family… maybe even your coworkers.

brown sugar bourbon ice cream with roasted apricots

Brown Sugar Bourbon Ice Cream with Roasted Apricots

For the ice cream:

  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. cream
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 T. bourbon
  • 1 vanilla bean, split

For the apricots:

  • 1 lb. apricots, halved and pitted (about 6-8)
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt

To make the ice cream base: Mix the milk, cream, salt and about half of the brown sugar in a large saucepan. Add the vanilla bean. Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar together in a small bowl. (The egg whites will keep in the freezer for months if you don’t have an immediate use.) Over medium heat, bring the milk mixture to the point where it is steaming but not boiling. Carefully temper the egg yolks by streaming in about 1/2 c. of warm milk, whisking constantly; add the tempered yolks immediately to the saucepan and whisk the custard over medium-low heat for 2 mins. Do not let the mixture boil; remove from the burner if it is heating too quickly. You should notice the custard thickening to the point where it will loosely coat a spoon.

Set a strainer over a clean bowl and strain the custard into the bowl. Discard any solids left in the strainer. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into your custard. Add the bourbon, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put the apricot halves on the pan with their pit sides up. Use your fingers to tear the butter into tiny pieces, placing a small amount of butter into the hollow of each half. Divide the 1 T. brown sugar among the fruit in the same way. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of kosher salt. Roast the fruit for 20 mins., turning the pan halfway through the cook time, until the apricots are starting to color and become juicy, but still hold their shape. Cool until you can work with them. Chop the fruit roughly into bite-sized pieces and store, with all the cooking juices, in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.

Churn the ice cream for about 20 mins., until it is the consistency of soft serve. Transfer a third of the ice cream into a freezer-safe container. Add half of the cold apricots in an even layer. Cover with another third of the ice cream, then the rest of the apricots and juice. Cover with the remaining ice cream. Freeze for at least 4 hours. Scoop and enjoy!

apricots, ready to roast

Summer blueberry cake.

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I think this is going to be a blueberry-heavy summer, which is very good news. The local berries were ready early this year (in late June actually, which surprised me) and have been sweet because of a nice balance of sun and rain. I’ve made blueberry scones and my beloved blueberry muffins already, had half a metric ton plain and on yogurt, and have plans for a few more baking projects in the weeks to come. All quite delicious, as you know… yet they pale in comparison to my very favorite summer blueberry cake.

summer blueberry cake, with added nectarberries

I was surprised to find I hadn’t yet shared this recipe. With the first sighting of local berries at the market, I begin to think about the first blueberry cake of the year. If I said before that a cake was my ‘very favorite’, I was not being honest. (Sorry.) My Nana’s chocolate cake comes close, and my Mom’s coconut cake merits consideration, but I would pass up most every dessert offered in favor of a piece of this blueberry cake. No surprise, it’s another recipe passed along by Mom. We used to vacation in mid-August on a lake in central Maine; my memories of those trips include pumping drinking water from the well down the street, swimming in the impossibly clear, cold lake with my brother, learning to play hearts at the giant kitchen bench/table, picking blackberries along the railroad tracks, and eating blueberry cake. Some of Mom’s cakes were made with coveted wild Maine blueberries… which might explain why it’s the only food I remember from those two-week long trips. Besides onion dip, and bacon for breakfast. Blueberry cake was way more important than either of those.

The best part of summer blueberry cake is the deep golden brown, delicately crisp top layer, helped along in part by folding beaten egg whites into the batter– an extra, yet necessary, step. (I’d like to think alchemy has a role as well.) The texture of the cake is dense but never dry, and it improves daily, becoming richer, as unctuous as a cake ever should be, perfumed by vanilla and all the berries… Can you tell yet how much I adore this cake? I don’t mess around with greatness, down to using the same Pyrex pan each and every time. In the past I have experimented, as I so often do: with the addition of lemon zest, for instance (I like it better without), or by doubling the recipe to make a layer cake with cream cheese frosting (too sweet, not necessary). My one occasional twist to the original recipe: a handful of blackberries or raspberries added to the mix. Blueberries must be present– it’s just not the same made exclusively with another berry– but a mix does work. My husband and I recently discovered nectarberries; conflicting sources describe them as a descendant of Australian youngberries, or as a boysenberry-blackberry hybrid. I stopped researching so I could eat more nectarberries. They are divine, no matter what they are– giant, juicy and tart, with a flavor somewhere between blackberry and strawberry. With blackberries still a week or so away from being plentiful, a handful of nectarberries went into the cake pictured. With blueberries or mixed berries, I adore this cake as a brunch option or coffee accompaniment. You’ll see that the flavor and texture are reminiscent of a good bakery muffin, so it’s not a stretch to cut a little piece for a morning treat.

When I shared the recipe for my Mom’s blueberry muffins, I was thrilled by the positive reaction and enthusiastic comments I got from those of you who made a batch. It is heartwarming to see a recipe so dear to me embraced and enjoyed by my community! I feel like this summer blueberry cake, my very favorite cake, is going to be another recipe like that. It’s not just the blueberry factor– this cake is tried and tested, loved and shared, as a great recipe should be. So, please, help me continue to pass it along.

summer blueberry cake

Summer Blueberry Cake

  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 c. sugar, separated
  • 1/2 c. shortening*
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/3 c. whole milk
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 c. blackberries, raspberries or nectarberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8″ x 8″ square pan, preferably glass.

Add the egg whites to the (very clean) bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high until the whites hold a soft peak when you raise the beater up, about 2-4 mins. Add 1/4 c. sugar to the whites and mix on high for another 30 seconds, just to incorporate. Transfer the beaten whites to a small, clean bowl.

Into the same mixer bowl, add the remaining 3/4 c. sugar and shortening. Using the same beater attachment, mix on medium high until light and fluffy; add egg yolks and mix again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, and mix once more.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture in two batches, alternating with milk. Stop before the batter is fully mixed; remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape off the beater, and add blueberries and beaten egg whites to the bowl. Use your spatula to fold the batter together; stop when the egg whites are very evenly distributed, but still visible in streaks. Work to keep as much air in the batter as you can.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and dot with blackberries or raspberries, etc., if using. Cover with the remaining batter and smooth it into all corners of the pan. Bake for 45-50 mins., until golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean– unless you hit a berry. Cool slightly before serving. I think this blueberry cake is perfect as-is, but a small scoop of vanilla ice cream probably wouldn’t hurt.

The cake will keep covered at room temperature for 2-3 days and in the refrigerator for a little longer. Mom says it freezes like a dream– we’ll have to trust her word, because I’ve never had one make it to the freezer in my house.

*A note about shortening. I use it sparingly, but it really is the best fat for this cake. Nutiva and Spectrum make shortenings that are organic, non-GMO and transfat-free. If you prefer not to bake with shortening, an equal amount of butter will yield decent results, and I’m tempted to test a coconut oil version. But do consider using shortening to experience the cake at its best.

No-bake cherry cream pie.

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There’s not much better than a homemade pie in July… except a homemade pie in your nice, cool kitchen! This recipe is a family favorite, a simple no-bake* dessert that really shows off your best summer fruit, and can be made with just a few hours notice and little effort. It’s reminiscent of cheesecake, but so much lighter. You don’t need whipped cream or ice cream to garnish. My mom usually makes it with strawberries, and we agreed that both raspberries and peaches would also be delicious. I chose to use red cherries for a few different reasons. First, cherries are flavorful and plentiful in Seattle in July. I needed a quick dessert to take to a 4th of July barbecue and had enough cherries in my kitchen to make a pie, without shopping. Definitely a plus! Second, strawberry season was quite early this year, so for the first time in memory, I had no fresh strawberries to use on July 4th. That was a bummer– but this pie helped me overcome my sadness. Third, and maybe most important to me, I can use easy-to-find red cherries instead of hunting for elusive pie cherries. I love how the sweetness of Bings plays against the creamy filling, and the very delicate shade of rose pink the pie takes on– it’s so pretty on the table! And then there’s the heat factor: make a no-bake cherry pie on a hot summer day, or heat your kitchen for an hour plus to bake a traditional cherry pie? I’ll take the no-bake option, please!

A few more notes about this pie: it’s low in sugar, which I like a lot. Factoring in both crust and filling, there’s only 1/2 c. total in the entire pie, and it serves at least eight generous pieces. That’s a drastic difference from most traditional fruit pies. If you’re pressed for time, or want a truly no-bake option, you can use a premade graham cracker crust, readily available in most grocery stores. The filling can be made with non-dairy whipped topping in place of the cream, though I prefer the texture of the real cream version. And you can really punch up the cherry flavor by substituting kirsch or almond extract for the vanilla. I had some cherry pit liqueur to use, which tastes like unsweetened amaretto, and I thought it was a great twist. Lastly, if you use a store bought crust, add 1/4 tsp. cinnamon to your filling when you add the salt. I find the cinnamon note in this pie is the perfect little finishing touch.

So, while cherries are ripe and plentiful, grab an extra pound or so and make this lovely no-bake cherry cream pie. Instead of lingering in the hot kitchen, you can spend extra time relaxing, chatting with friends and family… or eating pie.

no-bake cherry cream pie

No-Bake Cherry Cream Pie (serves 8 or more)

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 c. graham crackers crumbs (about 1 sleeve of graham crackers)
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. white sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 c. pitted fresh red cherries, plus more to use as garnish
  • 2 c. (1 pint) heavy cream
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract, or almond extract

To make the crust: preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in the microwave or a small saucepan. Combine the melted butter with graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, salt and sugar and mix until you have a wet sand-like consistency. Pour into a 9″ pie plate and use the bottom of a glass, measuring cup, spoon or your fingers to firmly press the graham mixture into an even layer that covers the bottom of the plate and goes slightly up the sides. Bake for 10 mins. and set aside to cool completely before filling. You can make the crust up to 48 hours in advance, or substitute a store-bought graham cracker crust.

To make the filling: pit enough fresh cherries to measure a generous 2 c. Set aside. Add the heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on medium to high speed until peaks form. Do not overwhip the cream; you will make butter. Underwhipping can also be problematic, so watch the cream carefully and stop when you can lift the beater out and a trail of cream will stand in a peak below it. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the whipped cream to a clean bowl.

To the same, now empty mixer bowl, add the softened cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until evenly mixed and slightly fluffy. You may want to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice. Add the pitted cherries and beat just until they are mixed through, no need to pulverize. Remove the bowl from the mixer, clean off the beater into the bowl and add the whipped cream. *Use the rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream by hand.* This is not a job for the mixer. When the filling is mixed thoroughly but still light and airy, dollop it into your cooled crust and spread out evenly. Garnish with extra cherries if you like. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

No-bake cherry cream pie is best on the day it’s made, but will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

*Okay, so technically you have to bake the crust for 10 mins. But, you can make the crust up to 48 hours ahead, or use a premade crust, and then go from there.