As labor day approaches, you are suddenly reminded that summer is nearing it’s end. Even in Southern California, there are subtle changes. The summer fruits and vegetables will start to disappear from the farmer’s markets, replaced with apples and pears, hard winter squashes and root vegetables. Inevitably, I end up thinking that I didn’t enjoy enough of the stone fruits that are my personal favorites, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries. The plum galettes, peach cobblers and cherry pies will be replaced with apple cake and pumpkin bread.
My mother used to bake blueberry cakes and buns during the summer, but she also used summer fruits to make her own cordials, something her family did in Poland. The dark sweet syrup was always a reminder of summer, especially when she spooned it into my hot tea in the middle of a New York winter. Summer will slip away no matter what, but here is a way to capture just a little bit of it and put in a jar.
Happy Labor Day!
1 pound cherries
2 cups sugar
3 cups vodka
Rinse the cherries, towel dry, and place in sterilized 1 quart jar. Cover with sugar. Add vodka (make sure fruit is covered with vodka) and cover tightly.
Store on a dark shelf for about 4 weeks before using. Then strain out cherries, (don’t throw them away) and pour syrup back into jar.
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As a child having an August birthday was always a little disappointing. Children who were born during the school year had typical parties that included games and home-made birthday cakes, but in the heat of the summer not too many kids were hanging around the Bronx. It also stemmed from the fact that my parents were not particularly interested in birthday celebrations. They never quite understood what all the fuss was about, on top of which they believed that once your birthday arrived, that year was over and you were now entering the next year of your life. Telling your friends that you are finally sixteen was somewhat hampered by my Mom who was busy reminding me that I was no longer sixteen, but now in my seventeenth year. We didn’t know my father’s actual birthday till he sent for his Polish birth certificate when he was well into his sixties. We grew up thinking his birthday was December 2nd, and so you can imagine our surprise when the certificate arrived and we realized he was born on February 12th. He hadn’t remembered that the day, rather than the month, is listed first on European documents. My mother often reminded us that birthdays were not marked when she was growing up, but were referred to in proximity to holidays, you were born near Sukkot, or on Passover, and that was the extent to which it was mentioned.
All this by way of saying that I love celebrating birthdays, which is no surprise. It just so happens that there are many August birthdays in our family and one in mid-September, which is close enough. My youngest son turned 24 today or as my mother would have said, has now entered his 25th year. Out of bed early this morning, I am spending the day cooking for his birthday celebration, a picnic and concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Dinner will include slow-roasted tomatoes, cheese (hand delivered from Paris) and a crispy baguette. Then on to baked salmon, pasta with vine-ripened tomatoes, basil and garlic. Sides are grilled artichokes, Chinese Long Bean salad, and a green salad with avocado and hearts of palm. Then champagne grapes, Bing cherries and a home-made two-layer chocolate cake.
Happy birthday Micah,and of course to all of you other August babies, here’s to us!! Special wishes for my Machatenista who has a big celebration coming up, and to Auntie Clara who is turning 100!!
Micah's Birthday Cake
Chinese Long Bean Salad with Creme Fraiche Dressing
1 pound Chinese Long Beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
3-4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Cook cut long beans in rapidly boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes. Do not over cook. Drain and plunge into bowl of ice water and allow to cool. In a large bowl, combine basil, garlic, honey and crème fraîche. Add beans and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings.
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When we were growing up, it seemed that someone was always dropping in to visit with my mother. They would sit at the kitchen table and talk, usually over a cup of coffee. My mom’s closest friend, Fanny, would nibble on a spoonful of jam instead of a cookie. Our lifestyle is not really conducive to dropping in on friends in such a casual way, and so I was thrilled when my friend Lori came by last Sunday afternoon with a warm cake, just out of the oven, and a book that she knew I would love. We sat and chatted, and I was reminded of what we have lost in the shuffle of our busy schedules. I miss dropping in on friends and I miss having friends drop in on us, but the sad part of the story occurred to me afterwards, and that was that I never even offered her a cup of coffee.
Lori sent me the recipe along with a little explanation.
The recipe is called “Gingerybread” and is adapted (by me) from a lovely little breakfast/brunch cookbook from the Grant Corner Inn, a bed and breakfast located in a 106 year old Victorian house in Sante Fe, New Mexico. It makes a large 10 x 14 inch cake that can easily serve more than 12 people.
1 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup dark molasses
1 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP strong coffee
1 3/4 boiling water
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger
Preheat oven to 325 and grease a 10 x 14 inch baking pan.
Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Blend in eggs, coffee, vanilla, molasses and honey. Stir in boiling water and set aside.
In a medium bowl sift together dry ingredients and then mix into liquids, blending well.
Fold in candied ginger. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes or till top springs back when touched.
PS – The cookbook states that this recipe is similar to the way gingerbread is made in Scotland – dark and substantial. My adaption was to omit the zest of an orange and substitute vanilla and coffee for 2 TBSP of brandy.
Note: This cake would be perfect for the holidays as an alternative to honey cake. Lori halved the recipe without a problem and is experimenting with oil to make a pareve version.
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There were days when we just didn’t want to get on the bus to Orchard Beach. We wanted to escape the crowds, the scene, the heat of our apartment, and the people. We would take our transistor radio, a book, a towel, and a reflector, and just like thousands of others teens in New York City, and just like the song, we could be found up on the roof. How can I explain what attracted us to this large tar-covered space. It was not scenic or pretty, had no charm, the tar was hot and you could get it on your feet if you weren’t careful. It was convenient but it wasn’t about convenience. It was about finding a place that felt so far away from everything happening below. Our own little retreat in the middle of the city. We didn’t seem to care about the lack of atmosphere, we always had fun and for some reason, nobody ever came looking for us. But even up on the roof you wanted something great to eat. I don’t remember what we brought with us, if anything, but if I had it to do all over again, then I think a slice of pie would be just perfect, plum pie.
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick butter or pareve margarine, cut into 1/2 “ cubes
3 Tbs sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, combine flour, butter, sugar and salt till dough looks like cornmeal. Slowly add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until dough forms into a ball. Remove dough, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for an hour or two.
15 Italian plums, pitted and cut into wedges
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs flour
Toss plums with flour in a bowl.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a floured board, roll chilled dough into a circle till about 1/4 ” thick. Transfer to parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Pile plums in center, leaving about 1 ” border of dough all around. Fold dough in pleats around plums and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes or till golden. Serves 8
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Aside from the end of the school year, there were several other changes that took place at the beginning of each summer. There was the annual re-appearance of the Italian ice man wheeling his cart down the street, offering lemon, cherry, or chocolate ices in a white paper cup. We had no idea why it was called Italian ices. Then, at the market you would suddenly find, prominently displayed, a table of large, oval-shaped fruit. Watermelon, thick-skinned and hardy, a fruit with a statement. Everything about it was unusual and fun. The size, the pale green shade of the skin, and the darker green stripes that swept across it. The fruit itself, surprisingly pink and dotted with small glistening black seeds, was always cut in thick slices and served ice-cold, a perfect summer treat.
Children no longer get excited about the appearance of watermelons since they are now available all year. On top of which, there is apparently an entire generation of children who don’t even know that watermelons originally had black seeds in them, having only been served the seedless varieties. Farmers have engineered our fruit so that we can eat it more efficiently. Personally I am never in that much of a rush and how sad that we don’t think our kids should take the time to spit out seeds! Not to mention, that they will never have that oh-oh experience of swallowing a seed only to worry whether a watermelon will start to grow in their stomachs.
I can only think of one good reason to buy a seedless watermelon and that is to make Granita. Something between an Italian ice and a slush.
1 small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into chunks
4 Tbs sugar
2 limes juiced ( use your imagination, lemons, orange juice, cranberry, or even vodka)
1/3 cup of sugar.
Puree watermelon in food processor and pour into a 9 x 13 Pyrex. Add sugar and any flavoring you like and stir. Cover with Saran and freeze for several hours. Remove and scrape surface with a fork and return to freezer. Repeat this every few hours until the mixture is “slushy.” Serves 10-12
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