I’ve been jonesin’ for Rosé since returning from Paris and I’m no wine expert, but I could be with the variety I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’m just not interested in being an expert, preferring to enjoy what I’m sipping when I’m sipping it. Often. I do know enough to get me in trouble, however, and so while we were on vacation, I spent the two weeks away from my usual Chardonnay, which when one is from California, is a staple.
Years ago when I purchased my favorite cookbook, Baking with Julia, I began to steadily go through it, deciding which recipes to try. This practice isn’t all that unusual, but at the time, baking was something I reserved for special occasions — birthdays, dinner parties, holidays — and always planned for on weekends, or when I had vacation time. If someone had asked, I’d have said I was more of a cook than a baker, and not always confident that what I baked would turn out as I wanted it to, so kept things safe with the basics. Cake, an occasional bread pudding, and pie were the norm.
The dust cover of the cookbook is now worn and slightly torn in a few places with spots and spills on many of the pages. Its sturdy binding has relaxed quite a bit, allowing it to comfortably lie open on my kitchen counter, sometimes for several days while I’m thinking about a particular recipe, glancing at it as I pass, wondering when the right time might be to indulge myself with a treat that doesn’t take a lot of time, or tackle something more complicated instead.
I think of so many different things when I open this particular cookbook, and most are not about the recipes. I think of younger boys still at home, occasions celebrating a kitchen renovation, or springtime in all its glory and a back yard groomed to perfection with my mother’s love and sweat. I think of a dinner party for six that lasted well into the night, meticulously planned for, each course paired with the perfect wine. I remember all that was lovely about a very special house, no longer ours to enjoy. So many things beyond recipes.
I don’t know that it matters which recipe I tried first from Baking with Julia, but of the 98 cookbooks I currently own, it’s the one I have baked more from than any other. Of course there are quite a few recipes I haven’t tried, and several which continue to taunt me, all seemingly beyond my ability or perhaps patience to contend with– the Pain de Camagne, for example, which is made by a very old chef-levain method requiring one to “capture and nurture airborne wild yeast” for the dough. But I have tried many more than once, like the Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes.
I’d waited forever to try the recipe, but when I saw a small bin of Italian prune plums at the market one day– something I’d not come across before — I knew they were destined for those plum cakes. I sorted through the deeply purple oval-shaped fruit to collect a small bag, noticing their dusty skins and stems still clinging to most. Some were quite firm, and others soft and fragile, like a ripe fig might feel. Or persimmon. I chose the firm plums finding that once sliced, the fruit easily separated from the stone unlike other plums such as Santa Rosas, which aren’t as cooperative. The interior color is a beautiful mix of melon and chartreuse and the flavor not as sweet as I’d thought it would be, but pleasant all the same.
They would be perfect for a whole plum cake rendition and thoughts while baking about times fondly remembered.
My husband rarely calls me by my given name — a boy’s name my mother decided upon after she heard a woman in a grocery store call her dog. A big dog. I’ve always thought it would be a great name for a dog since they’re more like people than animals anyway. It was going to be Deborah, like so many of the girls born then. Deborah Ruth, I think, after my mother’s mother.
No, my husband has instead come up with quite a few other loving endearments over the years I’ve been happily attached to him, but none of them come close to sounding like Kelly. I’ve tried to remember the first one, but getting caught up in the order of it all misses the point: that I’m deserving of these little jewels of lovey-doveyness from him.
I could have a completely different attitude about them, mind you. Someone who looked a gift horse in the mouth instead of considering the lovely source that my husband is.
These little somethings usually come with a smile or tone that suggests nothing too important will follow. He’s just getting my attention. Sometimes they appear on the cards he gives me instead of the giant heart with a capital “K” filling the inside. Other times, they appear as greetings in occasional emails sent, reminding me of something I said I’d take care of because he knows that I’m easily lost in my day on most days, so might never quite get around to doing whatever it is I said I’d do.
Sweets. Can you look around for my checkbook? It’s not in my car. You know, because doesn’t everyone keep it there?
Or arriving home at the end of a long day, he’ll ask, How was your day, Pear? Yes, he always asks, and then when I forget to ask about his, he continues to tell me what it was like. I need better manners.
More recently, I have been Pear Petunia when he’s lounging in his chair on the weekend and caught up in a football-soccer-basketball-hockey game or two on television. He absent-mindedly extends a hand for me to grasp in passing and squeeze once or twice. I seize the opportunity to remind him that Petunia was a pig and that being shaped like a pear isn’t exactly ideal, but being a pear-shaped cartoon pig is a bit much. We laugh.
He’ll disagree, but I think it all started with Pie. Yes, he called me Pie all those years ago, and I know I’m in good company when it comes to this because pie is always good, isn’t it? Especially when the crust is oh, so flaky and the filling a perfect combination of tart and sweet.
And so I made him little fruit pies the other day with blueberries and sugar plums I’d frozen.
He liked them with or without the powdered sugar, but you decide.
Perfect as Pie.
Much has happened since I last posted and ironically, most of it has had nothing to do with food.
Shocking, isn’t it?
No, I haven’t stopped cooking and yes, our waistlines confirm we’ve continued to eat, but I’ve chosen not to: 1) take time to jot down notes about a recipe when I’m fiddling around with it; 2) shoot process steps and results, and 3) upload and edit photos. Do you have any idea how completely fabulous it is to eat dinner without having to do any of that?
But I digress. I haven’t lost interest — I’ve wanted to squeeze as much out of this last summer as possible having my youngest son at home before he ventures off to college, so have saved some time for family instead. Even the big guys have been around more than they normally are. It’s been great having a house full of menfolk again, if only for a few evenings, and sometimes, when no one’s looking, I’m a bit of a mess. You know, having trouble with the stiff upper lip and all.
I’m not quite back in the thinking-about-food-all-day-every-day mode, but I’ll get there — I’m busy processing how different my life will be from this point forward. I’m a bit drifty, a tad obsessed with organization, and taking yet another look at my diet and the amount of exercise I subject my body to. For those of you who know me, I understand you’re thinking, so what’s new?
Right. Shall we talk about food? And because I’m avoiding carbs, and anything baked in particular, let’s discuss pie.
Perfect little lingering wisp of summer fruit pies.
Stone fruit is still going strong here in Paradise, and for some reason, I waited quite a while before I brought home some plums. I love plums — especially the black ones with golden fruit inside — and when I see them in the store, I look for the ones that are very firm hoping that when I bite into one, it will at least come close to the flavor of the plums I used to steal from those trees in Spain when I was eight.
I know. Another Spain story.
When we lived in Chipiona, there was a grove of fruit trees very near our house. There were also rows and rows of grape vines, but after eating grapes that weren’t ripe, the plums in the trees must have become immediately more attractive. They were big trees that required painful shimmying up the trunk since the lowest branches were too high to reach. But that didn’t stop me and while my younger brother and sister watched, I made it into the tree, and watching for the farmer. We’d seen him before, and I’m sure it was no surprise that we were the Americano waifs that prowled the neighborhood barefoot and unsupervised, so he wouldn’t have too much trouble finding our parents if we were caught. But the plums were so big and looked so juicy.
I straddled a hefty lower branch and edged my way to the plum I wanted, grasping a smaller branch with one hand, and reaching hard with the other. Unfortunately, the smaller branch broke, and I fell, landing hard on my left shoulder, dislocating my arm from its socket.
Yes, it hurt. My brother and sister thought I’d been shot because of the cracking sound the branch made, and ran, leaving me in the dirt. I never got to taste that plum, but it’s impossible not to remember that story every time I see them and although it was pretty painful, the memory makes me laugh.
These muffins only add to it all. They’re moist and crunchy at the same time, and they’re made from Joanne Chang’s master recipe which was published in the March 2006 issue of Tauton’s Fine Cooking, “All Your Favorite Muffins.” Joanne Chang wrote the article to illustrate how easy it is to have one recipe, then alter it with different ingredients for variety. The first time I tried them, I went with large cups .
This time, I decided to work on making big top muffins.