I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

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.

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Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts

By Alice Medrich (Artisan Books, 2012)

Dessert: Who doesn’t love it? Even those of us who have sworn off of sugar or beg-off to hold at-bay another pound, secretly have illicit thoughts of a rich, warm morsel from the oven in deep winter, or an icy granita or a cone filled with buttery, creamy ice cream on a blistering day.

Okay, maybe I’m projecting a little too much. Truth is, I love dessert! Years ago I had a conversation with a five-year-old boy, and we admitted to each other that we didn’t have a sweet tooth; we had sweet teeth – a mouth full of them! My grandsons would agree that they too would walk a mile in the snow for something chocolate.

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Bringing Morocco Into My Kitchen


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.

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


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!)

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More Maple! Maple Pecan Shortbread and Maple Pecan Pralines


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.

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Maple Vanilla Pecan Shortbread


My great aunt Oolie McGoogan, made a simple, delicious shortbread that she learned from her husband Angus’ family. Shortbread was always butter, flour, yellow sugar and a pinch of salt. The trick to the success of her shortbread was to knead it for at least 20 minutes. After it was cut into fingers and baked, it was supposed to rest for at least a week before serving. You didn’t mess with it, and we all got a tin of her shortbread for the holidays.  How times have changed!

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Celebratory Spring Cakes


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.

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Deep Down Orange Cake

Deep Down Orange Cake

 This is a gem of a cake. It’s a rich, buttery cake with an orange and Grand Marnier glaze, a perfect completion to a lovely meal. I made the cake in the picture for a friend’s birthday party. The Satsuma Mandarins had just come into the Farmers Market so I purchased a bag filled with the sweet orange orbs, and added lots of fresh zest to the cake batter.

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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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Karidopita (Greek Walnut Cake)

My mother took some cooking classes when she lived in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s, and one of the series focused on meals from various countries.  This is one of the recipes from that era, and one I happen to like.  So, when I was invited by a chef friend to a Greek Easter party I volunteered to bring the cake.

I’m not quite sure why things went wrong, but the cake stuck in the pan.  I carefully ran a knife around the edges and thumped.  Nothing.  Finally it came out in seven or eight pieces.  I was mortified as I worked with the chef and other chefs attending the party.  I pushed the pieces together as well as possible, but it was obvious that it was not quite as it should have been.

Got to the party and my chef friend showed me a Greek pastry that he had ruined earlier that day.  It looked worse than mine.  Then another chef arrived at the party.  I told him what happened, and he said, “What’s the problem?  It simply represents all the Greek Islands!

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Almond Sables

Courtesy of Alice Medrich, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies

Alice Medrich is perhaps best known as the woman who introduced the mouth-melting traditional chocolate truffles from Paris to the American home cooks and bakers. She also had Cocolat, an exceptional bakery in Berkeley for a number of years, and has since written numerous dessert cookbooks including the aforementioned Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your Mouth Cookies. She is truly a California icon for her culinary contributions.

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Back From Italy: Venice and Cinque Terra

(along with recipe for Walnut Sauce for Pansoti)

As I have now lost the 2-1/2 pounds I gained eating my way through Italian pastry shops, I will say that I am still happy but not quite as plump as I was when I arrived home. That said,
I just baked a fresh peach pie for my housemate’s birthday and I’m hoping he’ll give me a piece as I wouldn’t want to wither away, especially while writing about food.

We left Cortona for Venezia by train, arriving just before noon.

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