Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pretty Plum Cake (and dairy-free!)

Today I baked.

I love baking-- I think I could probably drop 20 pounds, easy, if I could just bake more cakes.  I know this sounds crazy, but the joy I get from creating new delicious treats is so satisfying that my normal sweet cravings are kept in check while I feed others.

Baking in a small kitchen is an exercise in organization and planning ahead.  I'm not great at that.  My eyes roll when I see the prep list of a recipe-- combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl... mix the wet in a medium bowl... in a large bowl take the remaining liquid....

Where to put everything when your counter space is limited?  I usually have bags of flour perched on top of the stack of cookbooks, spice bottles tucked in the valleys between the mixing bowls, and measuring cups and spoons just tossed in random crevices.  It's a bit of a balancing act, but it works.

Anyway, so today I baked.

We were invited to a friend's place for a barbecue and it was just a total pleasure being there.  It was a sort of house warming, and the home was warm indeed.  Nice conversation, mostly happy children playing, and of course, great food.  In honor of a visit outside of the house, I felt inspired to bake one of the recipes I've been saving in a notebook for years.  It's a plum upside-down cake, and it's wonderful.

Pretty Plum Cake (Dairy-free) (adapted from Real Simple)

This is such a pretty cake, the photos don't do it justice.  And it's so good.  I made this cake dairy-free, but the original calls for butter and regular sour cream.  I bet the cake would also taste great with yogurt instead of sour cream-- give it a different kind of zing.  Next time.

Prep time: 20 min
Total time: 2 hrs 20 min

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp margarine
6 plums (2.5" diameter) peel on, cut into 8 wedges each
1/4 cup + 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
2/3 cup tofu sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest (about half a lemon's worth)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 dashes cloves

Prep.  Heat oven to 350 F.  Grease (with margarine or butter) an 8 inch cake pan (make sure it's deep, at least 4 inches).  Line the bottom with parchment paper.

Plums.  Melt 1 tbsp margarine in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add plums and 1/4 c sugar and a dash of cloves.  Cook, stirring around, until sugar dissolves and juices from plums become syrupy, about 4 min.  While warm, arrange plums in cake pan, in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting from the outside.  Spoon pan juices over the plums.

Dry ingredients.  In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and remaining spices.

Wet ingredients.  In a large bowl, beat 1/2 c margarine, 2/3 c sugar until fluffy.  Beat in egg, sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest.   Slowly add dry ingredients, mix just until incorporated.

Bake.  Pour batter over plums and bake until toothpick in center comes out clean, about 55 min.  Let cool in pan 1 hr. Place large plate over cake pan and invert cake onto plate.

Marvel at the pretty thing you made, then eat it.

Do you bake in a small kitchen? Do you think your small space hampers your love of cooking? 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Save those Summer Herbs?

We got a late start on summer gardening this year.  Our backyard was an overgrown wasteland when the weather started warming up, and it took us quite a while to get it in shape.  It's a small yard, but we've managed to make the most of it.  There is grass to play on, patio to eat on, and a boxed herb garden that makes me happy every time I look at it.

Now that the summer is winding down (or, as the temperature is telling me, has wound down already) I am trying to figure out what to do with my overabundant supply of herbs.

To dry or freeze?
I think it really depends on the herb.  Rosemary and lavender, the more woody plants, do well with drying.  They keep their scent, and a lot of the essential oils are still there when the moisture is gone.  Thought not a woody plant, the dill will probably be dried as well... even though it tastes so different dried then fresh and the thought kind of bums me out.

For the rest? Freeze, definitely.  I think.  I'm still researching.  Parsley and cilantro will freeze well in ice cube trays and water.  As for basil, I'm not so sure... I read here, on Apartment Therapy, about a way to freeze the herb in olive oil, which sounds good in theory.  I'll have to experiment.

I have zero clue what to do with the profusion of lemon verbena.  I hope it freezes well.

How do you preserve your summer herbs?  Suggestions welcome!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: The Mason Jar Shelf

Photos from Etsy shops-- from top left moving clockwise: (1) Twigs2Whirligigs; (2) LuckyMargo; (3) OldAndNewShoppe; and (4) Woodandmorestore.

As summer starts to wind down, I'm even more obsessed with bringing some of those beautiful summer blooms indoors.  I stick blossoms in everything from empty salt shakers to sweet bud vases and tuck them on the bathroom vanity, my nightstand and even on the mantle.  And almost always there is some sort of happy arrangement in a vase on our kitchen/dining table.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered these adorable vase-shelves?  Etsy has a whole assortment of them, using mason jars to charming effect, and it's only a matter of time before I choose my favorite and break down.

I've been trolling around Etsy for years now.  I call it crack for the virtual shopper.  It's amazing what Etsy has done to revitalize cottage industry crafts.  You can find anything there.  If you have some free time (and have already read all my blog posts of course!) you should really check it out.

The genius of these shelves is that they really maximize the use of your wall space-- which even we apartment dwellers have in some measure of abundance.  You can hang a scarf, store your keys, keep a book and display some flowers all at the same time... without taking up one square foot of your apartment!  Brilliant!

Do you have a (big) small find that you think small space dwellers would love to have?  Comment below and let me know!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Grapes for Autumn + Falling for Hugs

It's hard to believe it's September, that Labor Day has now come and gone.  Autumn will be creeping in soon.  The temperature will be dropping, the leaves will be changing, and the days will be smaller, shorter.  Everything seems to get smaller in the fall.  After the haziness of summer, when the sky is bright blue and endless and the oppressive humidity makes everything blurry, fall brings with it a clean crisp wind that clears the air and brings everything into focus.  I think it also has something to do with the angle of the light, the way the sun highlights the trees and the sides of buildings, always golden and poignant.

Fall is full of poignant moments.  Maybe it's that the days are getting shorter, and subconsciously we want to make every moment significant.  For me, the moments are often small: noticing a wall of morning glory covering what once was an ugly chain link fence; listening as the sounds of piano playing waft through the air shaft.  The most beautiful moment to date, however, was last night, just after I gave my daughter her good night bottle, put her over my shoulder to burp her, and received the sweetest hug, her head tucked into the crook of my neck and her arms thrown around me.

It's going to be fall soon.  I love the moments that season will bring. 

One thing that heralds the beginning of autumn-- grapes.  I'm not talking about the jumbo seedless red ones I buy year round in the supermarket, but the small, tender green and black grapes that I find now in the farmer's markets.  They're twice the price as the supermarket variety, so I can't justify buying any, and I had to satisfy myself with taking pictures... and tasting one.

So good.