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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

Comfort Foods

Ravioli with Ligurian Walnut Sauce

In 2011 I traveled with my friends to Cinque Terra, “The Five Lands,” all built on hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Basil is used throughout the region as pesto and is also blended with spinach and pecorino  as the filling for pansoti, a ravioli that is shaped like a triangle. Unless you live in an urban area or regularly make pasta, it’s nearly impossible to find pansoti. Use your favorite ravioli instead. Walnuts and almonds are also grown in this region and the Ligurian walnut sauce that I had over pansoti is seductive! When I returned home and made the sauce, I added just a little vanilla, which accented the walnuts nicely. I used artichoke and butternut squash ravioli in the picture above and served it with a roasted vegetable and white bean salad and Chardonnay. As spectacular as the view walking the ridge from Vernazza to Monterosso! (And, by the way, the sauce would be excellent served over poached chicken or fish.)

Last Call for Summer Fruit Desserts!

The first autumn showers arrived  today after two days of beautiful, billowy cumulous clouds hanging on the edges of the Santa Cruz mountains and mildly humid weather suggesting that maybe a few sprinkles would come our way.

Unfortunately, it has been just that — sprinkles. Not enough to make the air smell of fresh rain on the pavement, not even enough to register in my rain gauge. The sky grew ominous — then the clouds moved on. I will need to water tomorrow.

Teasers like the rain forecast are the proverbial “death knell” for summer fruit. For the rest of the month we’ll be pushing pumpkins and apples at the store (with a few grapes and pomegranates for good measure) and the days will grow progressively darker. Which is why I’m sneaking in one more bit of late summer goodness before I fully give in to autumn.

Cherry Desserts in September?

Cherries are one of life’s very special gifts, at least that’s how I view them. As a child I patiently waited for cherries to arrive in our small town’s grocery. My mother usually took me shopping with her, so when cherry season arrived, I’d beg her to buy them. I then would forfeit as much allowance as necessary to buy my own personal stash of cherries, which I hoarded in the back of the refrigerator as my brother made frequent visits to the refrigerator throughout the day and inhaled whatever he could find.

Things to Do With Vanilla Ice Cream

Courtesy of Alice Medrich, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts

This is a selection from Alice’s book that directs readers to different recipes she has in the book. You will need to read the book for the recipes that are highlighted, but this will give you good ideas for adorning vanilla — or other– ice creams. And, for starts, how about the recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream? or Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream?

Bringing Morocco Into My Kitchen

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This spring I tried very hard to bring together a group of kindred spirits to travel with my colleague Fattah and me to Morocco.

Fattah is Moroccan, living in Santa Cruz. As a way to pay for trips home, he periodically offers a two-week sojourn through Morocco at an unbelievably reasonable price. The trip begins and ends in Casa Blanca and covers a lot of territory, including travels through the Atlas Mountains, an overnight trip into the Magreb (desert) on camelback, a night in a sustainable community where five of the rooms are beautifully decorated caves, a hotel on the beach in Essaouira, Roman ruins, a town of fossils, the souks, casbahs, a few days in villages and so much more. The trip promised to be beyond splendid.

An Off-Season Ode to the Sweet Pleasure of Maple Syrup

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Even in the heat of summer, I’m passionate about maple!” And  perhaps you are too?

Imagine how it must have been for the indigenous Americans and early settlers who  survived
winter on rations of dried meat, fish and roots, when the sweet, syrup was tapped and boiled then poured on the snow.

Knowing how the sweetness promised the change of seasons and broke the monotony of  simple, bland foods, I thought of the traditional pygmy peoples of Africa whose third most common cause of death was falling from trees while gathering honey. (The first  was being trampled by large animals; the second was falling into the fire at night after smoking powerful tobacco.) What a joy for those waiting on the ground for a mouthful of thick, sticky pleasure in a life of game, grubs and roots and shoots. (And a greater joy if the gatherer survived the climb!)

More Maple! Maple Pecan Shortbread and Maple Pecan Pralines

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Ahhhhh, maple everything!! As my Vermont friend Sandra sent me 1/2 gallon of maple syrup, 1 pound of maple sugar, a box of maple leaf candies and  a jar of maple butter, I  embarked on a maple
desserts splurge. Wouldn’t you??

When I visited Sandra in St. Johnsbury in 2002, we went to the Goodwin Family’s sugaring shack. Although it was April and sugaring had ended in Vermont, the processing was still underway and the place was buzzing. There were molds filled with syrup drying into maple candies. People were picking up jugs of syrup, and boxes ready to ship lined the hallway.

Celebratory Spring Cakes

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When I was a child my mother thoughtfully allowed me in the kitchen, not only to help her but also to bake. While I enjoyed cooking a lot, my passion has always been baking.

My mother was a good baker and excelled in the art of baking pies. Occasionally she baked cookies, but she didn’t have a sweet tooth so she baked primarily for special occasions. I, on the other hand, had a sweet tooth, and the only way to satisfy it was to bake as we lived too far away for us to walk to the local markets.

Vanilla Bean Pudding

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 Courtesy of Carol Fenster, Ph.D. from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes

Carol’s recipe is based on the classic, Blancmange, a sweet pudding made from milk and thickened with cornstarch, gelatin or other thickener. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, this was a food given to people who were ill to build back their strength. As we had no antibiotics, food was critically important. This is a nice treat for kids when their braces get tightened or when they’re home with the flu. Feel free to use extract if you prefer though the vanilla bean does impart a lovely flavor.

Haute or Hot Vanilla and Almond Lace Cookies

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What a strange winter this has been. I live in Santa Cruz, not far from the beach. We’re used to having occasional sunny interludes between winter storms but this year we’ve had an occasional stormy interlude between sunny, warm days. When I say warm days I mean as warm as 70 degrees in December and January, our chilliest months of the year!

Even stranger, we had the foggiest summer in decades. The kind of damp weather that gets to your bones. And we had no spring whatsoever as it rained right up until the end of June when the fog started. Weird.

Too Many Egg Whites? Here’s a Thought

If there is a gene that predisposes us to love dessert, I have it. For the last several days I have been eating 
myself into heavenly oblivion.  The Christmas pie I made that’s so good it makes you want to cry.  Biscotti from Bob Benish’s Bakery.  Divinely smooth fudge made by a friend.  The leftover Italian cookies from a market demo.  And, always chocolate.

I’m not sure which came first for me — discovering a love of dessert through baking or baking because I love dessert. While the answer might appear obvious,  we didn’t have daily dessert when I was a child nor did my brother or I have access to stores on our own as we lived several miles from town.

Edible Squash Bowls

I admit it — I love to look at Martha Stewart magazines and marvel at the brilliantly clever holiday magic, the perfectly decorated cookies, the floral displays, the beautiful food.  But, that’s the extent of it — just looking.  After all, who has time?  And if I had the time, is that how I’d spend it?  Probably not.

However, for quite a while I’ve been intrigued about using squash as edible containers for serving food.  They’re quirky, fun,  add to the decor and, at the end of the day they’re off to the compost.  Sweet.

I decided that the customers at New Leaf Market provided the opportunity for  indulging my fantasy — certainly they’d be interested to see them live in 3-D even if they never actually make them at home.  I was further invested as the head of produce asked me to come up with a way to move the little decorative-but-edible squash that poured into the market in October.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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