Summer Simplicity and Frenzy

Faux deviled eggs (plain boiled eggs topped with aioli), boiled new potatoes and beet and avocado salad.

Herbs, hardboiled eggs, salads, fresh fruit, bread, cheese. . . .zucchini and green beans starting to come out of my ears. . . .It’s a good time of year for cooking (or assembling) with what you have. And as much as I love to cook I don’t really want to be at the stove much (other than making jam and baking pies and tarts) these days. We’ve been having a lot of  dinners of late that I loosely refer to as Abendbrot–the German word for a light evening meal, meaning literally evening bread.

I use the term to refer to any meal that is cobbled together with a variety of cold or room temperature items. Last night it was cooked green beans with aioli, the last jar of tomato jam from last fall, some bread, a few hard-boiled eggs and a bunch of blueberries. It might be steamed artichokes, a green salad and bread, or roasted beets, some canned tuna (delicious Oregon Albacore) and a white bean salad.

We’ve been digging our first couple of hills of potatoes and they need nothing more than salt or a bit of aioli or some fresh parsley to be perfect. And speaking of  parsley I made a pesto with parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds last week that may well find itself into my Herbs in the Kitchen class in August. If you grow a few of your own herbs, they are really the cheapest and tastiest way to shape a meal.

Toasted bread topped with parsley and pumpkin seed pesto and a fried egg.

When I’m really pressed for time dessert has been fresh fruit, as is, and thus my five-year-old has become an expert cherry eater and cherry pit spitter. But I have also been staying up late or baking in the afternoon and then working late at night to make this fantastic cherry slab pie from Smittenkitchen, David Lebovitz’s blackberry sorbet , the Tutti Frutti Crumble from Super Natural Everyday and jam after jam after jam.

Cherry slab pie from–you get a bit more crust per cherry, it feeds an army and is most of all perfectly delicious.

This time of year is a conundrum for me. I get greedy. I want to pack that freezer with berries, make all my favorite jams and keep up with the green beans and parsley and squash in my garden. I have this slightly frenzied feeling in my body that is hard to control that makes me pit cherries and apricots faster and carry more canning jars up from the basement at once than is wise. I’m racing with myself and some deep-seeded need to preserve and not waste and take advantage of our ridiculous bounty right now. I feel so blessed to have all this amazing produce and fruit at my finger tips. So it’s one part greed and one part responsibility to use it and make the most of it and be frugal, frankly, so that for several months out of the year I wont buy much fruit at all. It’s a privileged position to be in–to have a flexible enough schedule to do this kind of thing–and a choice I’ve made deliberately. And I’m very grateful for that. And at the same time I want to let myself relax a bit and enjoy these fleeting weeks of warmth, neighbors on the porch sharing in that cherry pie, the sticky jam jars and even the fruit flies.

Happy eating, cooking and preserving!



Labor of Love . . . in the Form of Currant Cake


Currant Cake (Johannisbeerkuchen) fresh from the oven.

My father was German and as might be considered typical, had strong opinions about many things, including food. He had an excellent palate. He died sixteen years ago when I was 23,  long before I devoted my professional and volunteer life to food. I would love to talk to him about my current adventures and I’m sure he’d endorse some and be critical of others. He did, however, shape my palate and likes (mostly) in many ways. Like him I love apricots, currants, raspberries, whipped cream, dark rye bread, orange marmalade, wine, and many other things. He also really enjoyed food and was therefore usually fun to cook for. My American mother was/is the cook in the family but our many years living in Germany shaped the way she and now I, cook.

My father loved red currants (Johannisbeeren) and they ripen right around his birthday, July 17. This Johannisbeerkuchen, currant cake, was his preferred birthday cake and my mother has made it every year since his death. I’m a few days early, but my neighbors’ currants were ripe, so I made it today. It’s the first time I’ve ever made this cake in fact. It’s a classic German cake in a several ways–not terribly sweet, employs lots of ground nuts, and is encased in a buttery short crust. It is a bit more labor intensive than some but if you like currants or think you might and have been looking for a way to use some, give it a try.

The shortcrust recipe makes more than you’ll need for the 10-inch spring form. You can make a few mini tarts with the remainder or freeze or refrigerate for later use.

You gently fold the ground nuts (hazelnuts or almonds) and grated lemon zest into the meringue before folding in the currants.

Johannisbeerkuchen prep

Currants have now been folded into the meringue. A bonus of making this cake is she sheer beauty of the process.

Currant Cake (aka Johannisbeerkuchen)

We’ve only ever made this with red currants. If you have pink or white ones I think you can substitute them. I love black currants but they are muskier and just have quite a different flavor. It may well be delicious but it will be a bit different. I’m sure it would be beautiful with a mixture too.

This recipe calls for a lot of ground hazelnuts (or almonds). I grind my own in a little Zyliss grater, see photo below. This creates a very, fluffy light nut flour/meal. You will not get the same consistency if you grind them in a food processor. You’ll get a coarser texture which then easily turns into nut butter. So I would recommend hand grinding them if you have such a grater (many people have them for Parmesan) or buying the nut meal. Bob’s Red Mill carries almond meal that would be fine. It is a bit of work to grind by hand, but as I said, this cake is a labor of love!

You’re going to have six egg yolks left over. I will be making ice cream with mine. . . .

Serves 12


2 sticks (230 grams) butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the butter with the sugar until well mixed. Add the egg and incorporate well and then add the flour and salt. The dough should come together quite easily. I use my hands to do so. It  may be a bit too sticky to handle so flour your hands a bit and gather it into a ball. You won’t need all of the dough (see photo above) so break off a piece to save. Then press the dough evenly into a 10″ springform pan (or deep dish 12″ pie pan) bringing the dough up the sides about 2 inches. Blind bake the crust for about 15 minutes until it’s partially baked and just turning golden around the edge. I just press a round, buttered piece of aluminum foil onto the bottom of the crust before pre-baking to help hold its shape.

Four generous cups of stemmed red currants
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
175 grams, finely ground hazelnuts or almonds (see head note) (about 2 cups of whole, raw almonds turned into 175 grams of ground nuts for me)
6 large egg whites
zest of 1 small lemon

Mix the currants with 3/4 cup sugar in a bowl and let sit while you prepare the meringue. Beet the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and then gradually beat in the remaining sugar.  Then gently fold in the lemon zest and ground nuts until fairly well incorporated. Finally pour in the currants and fold those in as well. Don’t over mix as the currants do not need to be uniformly mixed in.

Fill the pre-baked shell with the meringue. It will be quite full but should hold it just barely.

Turn the oven down to 350 and bake the cake for 45 – 60 minutes until golden brown and pretty much set. You’ll still get a tiny bit of jiggle when you tap the side but it will firm up just a bit as it cools. Let cool completely and then cut into thin slices and enjoy!


Ready to go in the oven.

So many German desserts call for ground nuts. I use my little Zyliss grater for this purpose which results in a fluffy, light nut meal. The food processor does not produce the same results so either buy almond meal or grind your own–it’s a bit labor intensive but completely worth it.

Gratitude & Salads

A salad of mustardy roasted vegetables tossed with parsley and arugula with a lemony vinaigrette.

It’s one of those mornings in Portland (Oregon) that is unspeakably beautiful–one of those days that makes the cold, clammy, gloomy days of June seem both irrelevant and from some distant past hardly to be remembered (even though it was a mere four or five days ago when I sat shivering in my kitchen with a wool scarf around my neck).

I have two pots of beans cooking. This post isn’t even about beans but as I put them on this morning I sighed a big sigh of relief. I’ve been sick for more than a week and I’ve been working too hard and the combination has once again, this spring, derailed my simple routines and pleasures. So to have sunshine and a pleasant breeze and my favorite sustenance is just too good not to note.

On to salads. It’s always salad time of year for me but it’s extra good salad time of year right now. And some of my favorite bloggers seem to think so as well. I made this one yesterday for a potluck (with a toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds instead of almonds) and I can’t wait to make this one when green beans start showing up in a few weeks and this one, which is explicitly made for the cook-with-what-you-have approach, though they all are really adaptable.

The salad pictured above was a bit of a fluke. I was developing recipes for my CSA farms and was roasting vegetables (carrots, broccoli, Japanese turnips and onions) with a mix of whole grain mustard, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. I’m also thinking about herbs even more than usual since I’m teaching an herb class in two weeks (spots available!) and have been using them abundantly. So  I added lots of parsley and arugula which turned out to be a great foil for the richer, sweeter vegetables. So they got tossed together (at room temperature) with the greens and plenty of lemon juice and a little more olive oil. And I will be making this again soon!

Carrots, broccoli and onions roasted with whole grain mustard, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. Lovely as is but perfect tossed with lots of parsley and arugula and lemon juice and olive oil.

Mustardy Roasted Vegetables with Parsley and Arugula

This is a nice variation to plain roasted vegetables. One of my favorite things to do with these, once roasted and a bit cooled is to toss them with lots of parsley and/or arugula or just lettuce. You could add feta or ricotta salata or another cheese of choice. You could roast different vegetables (peppers, potatoes, zucchini even). Then add a bit more lemon juice and olive oil and make a big salad out of it. Or you can toss it with quickly cooked kale and some more lemon juice. Quantities are approximations. Use however many vegetables you want in whatever ratio you want.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1 large onion, cut in half and sliced in ½-inch thick half-rounds
5 Japanese salad turnips, scrubbed but not peeled and cut into wedges (optional)
6-7 carrots, scrubbed and cut into ½ – ¾-inch slices on the bias
2-3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put all the vegetables in a big bowl. Mix the other ingredients in a small bowl and then toss the mustard mixture with the vegetables mixing very well. I use my hands to get it thoroughly mixed—messy but fun and effective.

Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet with sides—try not to crowd and use two sheets if you have too much for one. Roast for 20 minutes then stir and keep roasting until all vegetables are tender and beginning to brown around the edges.

As noted above, these are delicious tossed with greens or kale for an unusual salad or just eaten as is, hot or at room temp.

Happy Cooking!