One of the most amazing but frustrating things about moving all the time is that I am constantly re-learning local produce. While most of the produce itself has remained the same from city to city and state to state, the timing has shifted a month or two or even three in different climates. But tree fruit. Tree fruit has been the one genre of produce that has just been completely unpredictable as I’ve moved from place to place. DC’s tree fruit scene was insanely awesome. Durham, on the other hand, not so much (though GOD I miss the blueberries.) Columbus had great apples and decent peaches, but not really any cherries or plums to speak of.
Moving back to Colorado, I knew I would return to a land of great, high-altitude peaches from Palisade and other farming communities on the Western Slope. But I did not expect the cherries.
Oh em gee the cherries!
Colorado has had rather a bumper crop this year, and I’m obsessed. For weeks now, I’ve been eating them faster than I can buy them. In fact I COMPLETELY missed strawberry season because I was so distracted by these round little rubies. Which, actually, is fine with me because the cherry is my new number one.
Are we far enough into January that I can talk about dessert?
I’d really like to. I know, a lot of you who are still in that “never eating dessert again” phase of January. I can tell we’re still in the window of active New Years resolutions: the gym is still full of people (I just need one elliptical, folks) and social media is crowded with photos of green smoothies and raw vegetables.
But when you’re ready to return to the light, I urge you to make these little bars.
Rather like lemon bars in their consistency, these bars feature a crisp shortbread crust topped with a luscious, citrus-y custard. But instead of lemon juice, these bars are brought to life by the vibrant, impossibly pink juice of blood oranges.
I write to you now from a new home! In mid-July, Brad and I packed up our lovely Ohio apartment, left our jobs, and drove nearly 1300 miles across the continent to Colorado. It’s a domestic destination I’ve had for a long, long time: having spent eleven years away, I’m finally living back in the land of dry air, big skies, and seemingly endless sunshine. And our new apartment, full of windows and light, has the view to prove it.
It’s so great to be back!
And spectacular vistas aren’t the only benefit Colorado has to offer. It’s peach season here, and Palisade, Colorado is famous for growing wonderful peaches. They’re so perfectly delightful raw — juicy and cool and bursting with flavor — that I can rarely justify breaking them down for cooking. But I’ve been on a fruit crisp kick in recent months, so I thought I’d give one a try.
Originally, this recipe was designed for halved peaches, with their skins, and with a buttery almond mixture smushed across the face of each before baking. The peaches form their own little baking dishes this way, and there’s no hassle of peeling or slicing. However, I found the peach skin to be someone irritating, so I gave it a shot in a more traditional slices-of-fruit-buried-by-crumbly-goodness format. I definitely prefer the latter.
On our brief trip to California a couple weeks ago, I had a few goals: relax, spend a day in Disneyland, and visit a local farmers market to buy come citrus. I am pleased to say that I achieved all of the above. The following weekend I spent the majority of my time in the kitchen getting to know citrus in way I never really have before. Aside from acidifying canned goods, or zesting the occasional lemon cookie, I’ve never really thought about citrus as an ingredient before. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of lemonade, orange juice, and grapefruit halves, but when I found myself pondering the best way to use five pounds of lemons, I had no idea where to start.
It only took a few minutes of consulting my favorite cookbooks and cookblogs to see the overwhelming consensus: lemon curd seemed to be square one for entry into the lemon-y baking world.
And to be honest, I had NO idea what lemon curd was. I couldn’t recall tasting it, though in hindsight I now realize that almost every lemon-y dessert I’d had probably used lemon curd as a base. Lemon curd, it turns out, is the happy marriage of lemons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Somewhere between the consistency of a jam and a pudding, curd can be made with any combination of citrus, though lemon seems to be the most popular.
Not to add to the din, but I feel like I’ve seen a ton of smoothie recipes popping up in the food blog universe. Despite the typically chilly weather outside, I’d wager a guess that January is the number-one month for smoothies, juice cleanses, and salad-eating.
And even I have this conflict. The desire both for thick, warm soups that shut out the cold of January but also for light, fresh meals that taste like the spring and summer to come.
Plus, Santa brought me an immersion blender for Christmas, and what better way to break it in than by crushing the heck out of some frozen raspberries?
This is a little smoothie. I can never get through a full-size smoothie, so this recipe is for about a half-pint. You can easily double it if you are full-size smoothie drinker.
If fall is pumpkin-everything season, then early winter is certainly the moment for the tart, gem-like cranberry to rise to prominence. I find myself recently obsessed with the immense versatility of cranberries, but this simple recipe is, by far, the best way I’ve found yet to feature these beautiful little berries.
Cranberries are, on their own, incredibly tart, and I rarely see them served raw and unaltered. But they are also so fashionable in that state, aren’t they? It’s sort of a shame that most of us consume the majority of our cranberries either liquified in fruit juice cocktails or gel-ified in classic, ruby-red sauce served aside turkey and cornbread stuffing at Thanksgiving.
This method gives the cranberries a nice level of sweetness to cut the sour but lets the berries glisten as a centerpiece of your holiday party spread. And while the berries require several hours of soaking in the fridge, these are incredibly easy to make. All you need is a bag of cranberries, sugar, and water.
I love Christmas, I really do. But I’m not ready for it. Not for candy canes and glittery pine cones and red ribbons on the ends of the aisle. I’m not ready for the ghost and goblin decor to be heaped haphazardly on a clearance rack by the checkout while pine boughs and Santa hats flood in from the back room. It’s Halloween this week, thank you very much, it’s Thanksgiving in a month, and there are several beautiful weeks of autumn between now and then.
And for you big-budget stores, I’m really not ready for jingle bells and dancing elves to adorn your circulars & commercials.
So in defiance of the ever-earlier Christmas season, I offer these treats that scream “Halloween!” loudly enough to drown out the dancing elves, at least for the next few days.
I speak, of course, of caramel apples. It’s no wonder this treat is a classic: a tart, crisp apple enrobed in a sheen of chewy honey caramel is one of the greatest joys of fall. These apples are Pink Ladies, my favorite variety, and they hail from this year’s annual apple-picking trip, which has become a cornerstone of every fall for me (my little blog is named after it!)
July and August in my childhood meant lots of raspberries. Produce in general, really: my grandparents planted each year a massive garden, and I strongly correlate the start of the school year with boxes of produce on the floor next to the fridge, pan fried okra at dinner almost daily, and raspberries.
Though I love most berries, the raspberry is by far my favorite. Sure, strawberries get a lot of credit as the first fruit of the spring, blueberries sustain me, strong and steady, through the heat of the summer, and blackberries dress up desserts with a splash of deep, fruity decadence. But raspberries, so fragile when picked ripe yet bursting with sweet and tart flavor, will never fade for me.
In Durham, raspberries don’t seem to be a popular cultivar. I’m not sure if it’s the climate or what, but I have only ever seen one, maybe two vendors at the farmers market here with these tiny red berries, and when they do it’s usually just a few pints at a time. So each week of the brief raspberry season in this city, I try to take full advantage. This week, I paired them up with a few luscious peaches for some hand pies!
Since moving away for college eight years ago (eek), I haven’t been able to spend Mother’s Day with my mom. I think I’ve lucked out for Father’s Day a couple of times as June was more conducive to cross-country travel, but Mom has had to settle for phone calls and packages.
This is a special Mother’s Day, too. My mom is retiring this year after decades of work in elementary libraries and classrooms, teaching young Coloradoans (myself included) to read, to write, and to appreciate books. I have many fond memories over the years of going to the library with my mom for work and for fun, of stapling long strips of playful bulletin board borders to the edges of her displays, of ogling over the annual book fair catalogs and knowing that if there was one place she would buy us anything we asked for, it was books. Her fervor for the written word has, no doubt, cultivated my own passion for books and penchant for writing. She’s the #1 fan of this little food blog and tenders her support through comments, encouragement, and little e-mails alerting me to typos (which, by the way, I welcome from ANYONE who spots one – I want to squash typos out like bugs). So thanks Mom! For everything. I wish I could spend today with you!
Spring (though it’s actually starting to feel more like summer here in NC) has officially begun. It seems like the trees were, just moments ago, blossoming in delicate flowers and poking little green buds into the cool air, but they are suddenly enrobed in lush, green leaves still blinking in their new-found sunshine. The daffodils and tulips have come and gone, and the light lingers a few moments more every evening.
But just in case there was any doubt:
The berries have arrived.
Glistening, ruby-red, and more photogenic than any berry I know, strawberries are the first fruit of the season to reach the farmers market in Durham. They’re the first float of the summer produce parade; it’s definitely cause for celebration.
And what better way to celebrate than with a classic, fresh, and simple strawberry shortcake?
Okay, okay, I know you might be skeptical about my use of the word “simple” when discussing a six-layer cake, but I promise, it’s really rather easy AND is so totally worth it once you have your first bite.