Thursday, March 26, 2009

Plum Cake Goodness.

I mentioned the plum cake two posts ago- but I think it deserves mentioning again- mostly because I've acquired more plums.

Plums in March? Yes, but not in the way that you think. My father cans the fruits of summer whole and in jam and jelly form; peaches, pears, plums, figs, blackberries, grape, etc. If I am a good daughter, he sometimes gives me jars of summer fruits if I promise to bring the jars back to him (I've got at least one shelf dedicated to 'dad's mason jars' and the small jam jars make excellent wine glasses). The peaches are always coveted the most- and for good reason- there is nothing better than a home-canned peach, except, of course, a fresh peach- unless it's march which is not the time for eating stone fruits if you care anything about flavor.

Plums are a bit of a different animal when they're canned. A stone fruit it is, but a juicy peach it is not. The plum's skin has a slightly bitter bite to it, and the flesh of a canned plum is somewhat sodden and deflated- which is to say that appearances are deceiving- especially if the jar is dusty.
I manage to somehow turn a blind eye to the fruit on the top of the jar that is exposed to preserved air and may have some odd spots on them. I try my best to forget about how awful botulism is, and remind myself how simple and tasty a plum cake is.
Plum Cake
Adapted from The Splendid Table website who got it from Marian Burros

This is a humble cake. It doesn't need any fancy presentation. I usually slice and eat it right out of the pan. It's good slightly warm and even better for breakfast the next morning.
  • 1 stick butter- room temperature
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 3/4 c white flour
  • 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla or lemon zest
  • pinch salt
  • 12ish canned plums (if fresh are in season, those will work).
  • Cinnamon & Sugar
Butter a cake or pie dish. Or a spring form pan if you want to call this tasty creation a torte. Preheat oven to 350.

In a mixer, cream butter. Add sugar. Mix until fluffy. Scrape down sides and add eggs and vanilla or zest. Mix well.

In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to everything else and mix until a batter is created.

Turn batter into prepared dish or pan.

On a cutting board, half and de-stone the plums. Arrange plums on top of the batter, skin side down. Dust generously with cinnamon and sugar.

Stick the cake-to-be in the oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown and tasty.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Babies Everywhere!

We (the occupants of apartment 213) got out of town this weekend. Not even bothering to clean out the fridge before we left, we made it to the 'Grove by 8pm on Friday. That's when we got to meet Randi and Eric's new family member- Mr. Beck Otis Reichmuth.
Here he is in his space-age car seat/carrier (it even has a roll-bar! Something of a necessity if you're planning on transporting your baby in/on some sort of bicycle trailer).

Things Beck likes:
Soothing noises (sometimes)

Things Beck dislikes:
Being Hungry
Not eating
Dirty diapers

That's what I was able to gather this weekend. I'll know more once he starts talking.
While Randi was gestating, a friend of mine informed me that if I was to have any shot at being a godmother, I'd need to start my campaign early (Fran's family is Irish-catholic). I wasn't sure if the new parents were planning on washing away their baby's original sin, but I thought it couldn't hurt to present my platform. I sent a card that said something along the lines of

Dear Randi and Eric, If you choose to bestow the title of godmother on me I promise to be a good influence on your offspring, to knit your baby warm things and be a rad aunt-like figure. Yeah? Whaddya say? -Sarah

Here's me making good on at least one promise.
It took me a little over a week to knit the Owl Baby Vest by Caffeinated Yarn. It seems a little longer that the other photos I've seen of it... but that shouldn't be a problem if you've seen how long Baby Beck's torso is. He's definitely got some room to grow into it. I think he'll be the most handsome baby in Lane County.
The owls were a hoot to knit. For my second cabling project, it went quite flawlessly (this is only after I discover that the owls only go across the front and not all the way around... only a few obscenities were verbalized (more were internalized). The GREAT thing about knitting pint-sized projects is two-fold: I get to practice different knitting techniques without getting overwhelmed and/or bored, and a baby stays warm. Win-win!

Not only did I get to see a 3-week old baby, but I was just in time to see a baby goat burst forth into the world. Randi and Eric's neighbors have 3 goats. This is one of them... Rose?

They had a handsome billy goat come and impregnate their ladies this past summer (fall?). When I went out to take a peek at the first set of kids to be born (two days earlier), Brian and Terry were in the barn tending to Calypso, who was in labor. I took some photos of the birth, but they were a special combination of blurry/graphic that I didn't think fit the tone of the blog. I can say that after the placenta was cleaned off of the little guy, he was pretty cute!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oh, Martha!

I've been in a cake baking rut. A rut in the sense that my past 3 of 4 cake-like items I have baked have turned out sub-par. This not only upsets me, but makes me not want to bake for fear of another failure.
First there was a cake I made for work. I was so ashamed of the lack of sponginess that I referred to it as a torte.

Then there was the cupcakes that turned hard and resembled hockey pucks.

Then there was a successful plum cake/torte(!).

Lastly there was a less-than-successful plum cake/torte, The plums were enveloped by the cake when they should have been surrounded by it. I made a repeat of the plum cake/torte for two reasons.

1. An attempt at consistency.
2. To boost my confidence.

Instead, I apologized profusely to my guest and boyfriend as we destroyed (ate) the evidence of the sunken-plum cake.

This past weekend I decided it was time to put away silly doubts, It was Jody's Birthday, and she deserved a homemade cake. In order to get over my self-doubt I tried some positive self-affirmations (something I learned in my self-defense for women class- but a handy technique when applied to other areas of life). 'I AM a strong and powerful woman!' was adapted to, 'I CAN bake a delicious cake!' I thought back to double-layered cake successes, as well as incredibly moist and perfectly spiced pumpkin cupcakes. I thought some more and remembered where I had found the most perfect pumpkin cupcake recipe- why from Martha Stewart, of course! Whatever you say about Martha Stewart, you cannot talk shit about her cakes. I'm sure savvy business sense helped her get where she is today- but she certainly couldn't have done it if her cakes sucked. After briefly searching her website (which, by the way, is a lovely and calming yet cheerful shade of Tiffany green/blue), I settled on a decidedly classy and un-fussy Devils Food Chocolate Cake.

And you know what...

It was a success!

I felt so confident about my baking on Saturday, that I not only baked a cake, but also a loaf of bread (no-knead style),

and a tuna-noodle casserole (made with cream of mushroom soup from Soup Swap), complete with breadcrumbs!

After that, I was exhausted. So I watched Gone With The Wind.

Devils Food Chocolate Cake
-Adapted from Martha Stewart
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened Hershey's cocoa, plus more for pans
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350. Butter 2 cake pans. Cut out some circles in parchment paper and put in bottom. Dust with cocoa and set aside. Add boiling water to cocoa powder. Mix and set aside.

In your boyfriend's Kitchenaid mixer, whip butter with paddle attachment. Add sugar and blend until fluffy. Scrape down sides and whip again. Add vanilla and eggs gradually. Blend until smooth and uniform.

Sift all dry ingredients together. Stir milk into cocoa paste- it will look delicious, but it is not.

Alternate adding flour and cocoa mixture, to butter/sugar whip. Mix until mixture is mixed.

Divide batter evenly among cake pans. Bake for 35ish minutes- or until toothpick or other sharp item you stab into cake comes out clean.

Let rest for 15 minutes. Turn out onto wire rack to cool.

Make frosting.

Tasty Chcolate Frosting-
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate pieces
  • cream
In a double boiler, begin to melt chocolate pieces. In mixer, whip butter. Sift powdered sugar into butter. Add cream and more powdered sugar if desired to acheive the consistancy you want.

When chocolate pieces are melty, remove from heat. pour in some cream- give it a good glug. Stir. Allow to cool for a bit then add to butter/sugar mixture. Whip to desired consistancy.

When the cake is COMPLETELY cooled, you're ready to frost. Start with a bread knife and cut off the rounded tops of the cake- this not only gives you something to nibble on- it also gives you great surfaces to work with. No wonky cakes here, no sir.

Frost the top of one cake. Put the other cake on top of the first. Frost the rest of the cake. Put a crazy-huge daffodil on your cake for beauty and to remind everyone else about spring... and GMO daffodils.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Soup Swap.

I love hosting. I love hosting so much, I have been known to act as hostess at other people's parties. As my apartment is quite small, I am unable to host parties of the scale of summer 2007 at 1023 (Also known as the summer in which I scored a free keg... that was a great summer). Still, I do miss the hosting aspect- and getting friends together- that is also nice. So when I saw this post, I felt as though the author was speaking to me. I heard the calling, and spent that afternoon busily drafting an open letter to friends (as well as friends of friends) and day-dreaming of soup.

I knew that I had to act quickly- as it is March, which means April is right around the corner, and then, before you know it, it's summer and no one wants to eat soup- unless it's a gazpacho.

If I were to host Soup Swap again for the first time I would scale down the amount of soup to 4 quarts. I made everyone bring 6. As it turns out, 6 quarts of soup is a lot- 1.5 gallons, at least 2 batches, 24 cups. Anyway you look at it... it's a lot of soup.

The turnout was perfect in the sense that there were 6 soups- so everyone got one of everything. I hear-tell of other Soup Swaps that get all competitive and people's feelings get hurt if their soup is chosen last. Not this one- it was all smiles and grins. People even took the opportunity to name their soups. Notable names: Fenntastic (beans and veggies with fennel), Poet's Soup (potato and leek- cheap ingredients- which is why poets make it), and Complete Protein (beans and bulgur=see name).

For more information on official rules and regulations of Soup Swap as well as perhaps finding an open Soup Swap in your neighborhood, go to In fact, I just checked, and there's one coming up in April... Perhaps I should have advertised mine on the website... except that (as previously stated) my apartment is small and I'm wary of strangers.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rosemary. Also, a wheelchair.

Rosemary is one thing that I really appreciate about Portland- it grows everywhere, and on a large scale. Granted- the only city I've ever lived in is Portland, so maybe my amazement is unfounded.

Two residences ago, about a month after I had moved in, I was sitting at the kitchen table, which overlooked the backyard. Noticing a huge green shrub, I said to my self, 'it can't be...' but it was- a rosemary bush the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. At my most previous residence, there was a large rosemary bush growing into the sidewalk about a block from my house. I frequented it regularly.

When I moved to NW, I wasn't necessarily worried that I would be without a supply of rosemary in close proximity- but just to be sure, I did some neighborhood wandering and actually took notes of where the rosemary was. The closest one I thought was a whole block and a half away- which I trekked to regularly. That was until recently, when I found a sizable shrub growing beside the curb where I sometimes park my car (points for being observant). That being said, I'm happy as a clam with a consistent supply of rosemary not half a block away!

I ran out to get some rosemary for some tasty lentils earlier this week. It was then that I encountered this:

My first thought was, 'how sad, someone died and they had to get rid of his wheelchair.' My second thought was, 'I wish I had someplace to put this wheelchair.' Alas, my days of bringing free curb-side things home have lessened a great deal now that I find it necessary to ask myself, 'where would I put this?' but also by the fact that I cohabitate with another person who is picky about what I choose to bring home. So instead, I just took a photo.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I made tamales this weekend.

That's a bit of a lie- WE made tamales this weekend. Nic might get a little upset if I don't give credit where credit is due. As it turns out- making tamales isn't necessarily as time consuming as I had thought it would be- which isn't to say that it wasn't an involved process. Also- to be fair, I've sort of made tamales before- during my study abroad in Ecuador. Except that by 'helping' the only thing my host mother allowed me to do was to clean the banana leaves.

When Nic and I moved in together and mixed possessions I took note of his Diana Kennedy book: The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. After perusing the pages I dismissed authentic Mexican food as too time consuming, involved and it's processes very unfamiliar (sorry, Mexico). In a word- intimidating. Last week on The Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper went to Mexico and hung out with Diana Kennedy. It was then that I knew I had to open the book again.

For the pork, we went to Gartner's Meats in NE Portland. I had previously been to Gartner's once before- to offer moral support as my vegetarian friend bought a whole beef heart for her small students to poke and prod. Apparently Saturday's are good business for Gartner's- and it was absolutely packed. I haven't seen so many people excited about meat in a long time. Gartner's had a very effective system for dealing with the madness- a take-a-number system. After taking number 99 (after which they promptly re-filled the roll) and waiting we were got our tamale pork (as well as bacon and a pepperoni stick) we were on our way to try to find a Mexican Tienda. After some driving around, we found one and stocked up on masa, ancho chilies, corn husks and cojita cheese. We were all set.

We managed not to eff up the tamales (they tasted great!)- although I'm still skeptical about the assembly part.

The recipe called for the pork to be cubed and boiled. I'm not the biggest fan of boiled meat- but we used a great deal of the stock for the sauce as well as the masa. I wouldn't say I'm a convert to boiled meat, but it was quite effective for the purpose of tamales.

While I made a sauce with the ancho chili's (simmered with garlic for 5 or so minutes to soften the dried chili's and then blended with broth, cumin and pepper) Nic shredded the meat. We then took turns hand-blending lard and broth and some sauce with the masa to create a nice dough while the meat simmered in the sauce.

The assembly part was not as much difficult as I was convinced I was doing it wrong. After wrapping (and tying the ones that needed a little extra help- not to mention a little extra cuteness) they were steamed for a good 50 minutes.

Topped with a bit of cojita cheese- we ate several and distributed the rest in the fridge/freezer for lunch next week.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Place mats.

When I bought my sewing machine, I was under the impression I would be sewing clothes. This has not been the case. For my second project (post baby quilt) I decided our bare table needed a little color and a domestic touch. Hence, I created place mats. I did something very uncharacteristic which was to not use a pattern. I'm a stickler for following directions. Shooting from the hip isn't my style, and things can (and usually do) get real messy real quick-like.

I'd say they turned out good. It's not the phenomenal image of perfection I had in my head, but I'm very pleased with them. They have the desired effect, bringing color and warmth to an otherwise cold and early breakfast on weekday mornings.

I used fat quarters that were given to me by Nic from Bolt. There's still left overs and I'm feeling an oven mitt in the works. I've even got a pattern for this one.

Mmmm, Meatloaf!

We're sort of foodies 'round here. It's a bi-product of living in Portland. I definitely didn't do it on purpose. Once, in conversation, I admitted to my father that I think I'm a bit of a food snob and he replied with a sarcastic, 'oh really?'

In this respect, I'm also very spoiled when it comes to meat. My father, one John Compton is a retired teacher, school bus driver and quasi-retired farmer. Up until last year he had a marginal 'heard' of sheep. After several lambs perished in the unusually cold January nights, he decided that perhaps he was getting too old to deal with baby lambs.

Nic and I went down to help dock the lambs last year. Here's one of my favorite shots from that afternoon.
Whenever Nic and I go down to Elkton, we usually come back to P-town with some meat from the freezer. Some of it is very, very old, and some of it is freshly frozen. That being said, there's a possibility- a good one- like 1 in 30 that we ate part of the lamb pictured above in our meatloaf the other night. If that isn't spoiled, I don't know what is.

What's in the bowl above eventually became Lamb Loaf with Cumin, Coriander and and Fennel, adapted from The Splendid Table website. The adaptation mostly consisted of using ground beef instead of ground veal that the recipe called for.

Let me tell you- this meatloaf was all kinds of tasty, it didn't even need ketchup! I hadn't had a good meat loaf for at least 6 years (I know, right?!). I'll definitely be making them on a more regular basis.