July 23, 2014

Plum Crazy

Upside Down Plum Corn Cake
Just last week I was the recipient of one of those proverbial bags of summer fruit, dully passed from one person to the next. Whether it's typical of July, or it's just a coincidence, it seems that around this time of year, I usually receive a bag, the only thing differing is the contents.

Luckily for me, this year's 'pass on' was a bag of beautifully hued small purple plums wonderfully perfumed and just a slight shade of spoiling. In other words, they were perfect for cooking.

Mr. B was curious about the plums from the moment I first revealed the contents of the bag. Admittedly, plums show up in our house quite randomly and without any other purpose than quickly devouring them, but truth be told, after 2 or 3, both Mr. B or I lose interest.

I toyed with several ideas from a plum chutney to a moutarde--I even thought of a making a plum clafouti, but in the end, nothing seemed to grab me. It was by chance that I thought of making a plum upside down cake, and although I'd never had one, it seemed that it would be reasonably delicious.

When I shared the news with Mr. B, he was ecstatic. It's been a while since I've whipped up anything sweet and the thought of downing a thick slice along with a glass of cold milk was a pleasing thought for him.

I went to work peeling the plums and while I'd originally wanted to have gorgeous halves turned upside down, the plums had other ideas. Even though they were ripe and ready to be used, their flesh hung tightly to their stone; peeling them turned out to be far more work than I'd bargained for!

Once I'd finished, I had a nice thick layer to put upon the bottom of my pan, but then, when I went to make the batter, I realized two things: I had very little sugar and almost no flour. It looked as if my plum upside down cake would be a wash, but  since I didn't have the heart to tell Mr. B, who had been waiting patiently all day for his cake, I pressed on. I rummaged about the cupboards, but all I could unearth was a single box of Jiffy cornbread mix.

Always game for an experimentation, I decided to give it a shot and came up with this crazy recipe that isn't only delicious, but quick to prepare. Mr. B and I agreed that this was a winner and the best part--with a quick substitution of other fruit, this is a go to cake that can take you from one season to the next.

Crazy, huh?

July 15, 2014

Summer Succotash

Ah, sweet summertime! I'm not one for the heat, but I sure love what it does for my garden. Right about this time every year, I start pulling in buckets of cherry tomatoes, zucchini and arm fulls of basil.

I don't plant much more than that since it's a short trip to the farmers market and it saves me a lot of work for what can often be too little output. Besides, it's always more fun to let someone else do the hard work and so I can enjoy a little extra time hanging around the pool and reading.

Stewed summer vegetables are a staple of the season. Growing up, my mom always had a pot of some combination stewing away on the back burner of the stove. My favorites included okra and corn, and of course, string beans and potatoes seasoned with thick chunks of ham and cayenne pepper.

The beauty of a summer succotash is that it makes use of a surplus of produce and makes for a satisfying meal served with steamed rice and fresh herbs. Why not stroll your garden and stew a pot up for yourself?

July 08, 2014

Stawberry Shortcake Bars

I feel sorry for kids today. Sure, they have some really cool technology to play with, but back when we were kids we had our imaginations. Of course, we lived for summer vacation and the closer that last bell drew near, the more giddy we became.

Summer was more than just a compilation of catching lightning bugs, running through the sprinkler, and annoying the babysitter. It was a way for the kids in the neighborhood to bond and let off some steam. We rode our bikes as fast down the hilly streets as we dared, played hide-and-go-seek until it was so dark we couldn't see anymore, and most of all, we waited everyday for the sound of the ice cream truck to make its way through the neighborhood.

Then, like clockwork, we'd start trying to wear our parents down for the odd cents needed to buy a cold confectionery treat. And, it was a race of time; you had to work hard and have a compelling argument and the ability to not take no for an answer. And therein lay the delicate balance of pushing hard, but not so hard that you'd wind up with a spanking and an evening alone in your room. I've long believed that my determination and ability of convincing others is rooted in negotiating for ice cream.

In general, the treats were a dime apiece, although if you wanted a 'Bomb Pop'--one of those red,white and blue and twice the size confectioneries--you had to fork over a quarter. I know that for a fact because my brother always seemed to have more money than the rest of us and he would lord that 'Bomb Pop' over us, licking it slowly so that we'd be dully tormented.

I was never picky about what I got off of the truck--they were all good to me. Rather, the real pleasure for me came in having the money to run down the street and stop the truck. I would have never realized it then, but chasing after that ice cream truck as evening fell, dusk obscuring everything into hazy grey shadows, and laughing with the neighborhood children as we triumphantly ate our treats, then sent our sticks airborne into the night, would be among the best times of my life.

There's no ice cream truck in my neighborhood and honestly, I can't tell you when I last heard those bells. But the other night, I whipped up a confectionery treat that reminded both Mr. B and I of those halcyon days. We ate them outside as dusk fell, laughing and sharing stories of days long since past.