We had a bit of a heat wave in the Bay Area this past weekend. Saturday, in particular. There’s nothing like coming off of a long flight from China and having your typically foggy city greet you with blazes. I mean really, there was no easing into summer. But it’s no problem. I’ve gotten my cotton skirts out of storage and plan on wearing them all summer long. That and flip-flops and high ponytails. There will be iced coffee in the mornings and lots of leg-dangling in my mom’s pool.
What is a problem, however, is even thinking about turning on the oven to bake during the summer. But I’ve found a solution. Its name is slump. Do you know slumps? If not, you should. I’ll introduce you.
A slump (also referred to as a grunt) is an old-fashioned dessert made with whatever fruit you have on hand. On the spectrum of old-school fruit desserts, a slump is somewhere between a cobbler and a steamed pudding. This is not necessarily the most beautiful, visually stunning dessert you’ve ever seen. I probably wouldn’t make it for royalty or even for, say, a bachelorette lunch. Stick with petite fours for that one. Or maybe a pavlova. But I love slumps for their simplicity: you slice up a bowl of fruit, heat the fruit in a pan on the stove top, cover it with a simple dumpling dough, put the lid on, and steam away for about 20 minutes. Done. Now you’re acquainted.
The best part about slumps and summer? Because you cook them on the stove top, you never need to actually preheat the oven. It’s not a baking-while-sweating endeavor. Now that you’ve met slump and perhaps started to really let him grow on you, I have to tell you about slump’s bad side: he doesn’t keep well. In fact, you really have to take down the whole pan the same day (although I think having it for breakfast the next morning would be perfectly acceptable) because it will get quite soggy. For me and the company I keep, that doesn’t ever seem to be an issue. But you may want to plan accordingly.
O.k, my work here is done for now.
You + Slump = fast new friends.
Me= Going for a pool-side leg dangle.
To peel peaches quickly, dunk them in boiling water for thirty seconds or so and the skin should peel off quite easily. For this recipe, it is important that you use a pan with a tight-fitting lid so the slump steams adequately. And while I don’t always love using cornstarch in fruit recipes, stone fruit does have a high water content, so it’s necessary here. Don’t leave it out.
Adapted from: Rustic Fruit Desserts
Slice fruit into thin wedges over a bowl, collecting all of the juice. Drop slices in bowl. Separately, stir the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a small bowl, then add to the fruit and quickly toss to coat. Gently stir in the lemon juice, then slide the fruit and juices into a 10-12 inch non-reactive, deep skillet or a wide 5-quart saucepan or Dutch Oven. Let stand for 15 minutes as the fruit releases its juices and the sugar dissolves. Bring the fruit mixture to a low simmer over medium-low heat and stir occasionally to prevent juice from sticking to the bottom. Simmer for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
To make the dumpling dough, whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it’s the size of peas. Add the cold buttermilk and stir until just combined. Don’t worry: the dough will be pretty wet.
Scoop 8 dollops of dough atop the fruit, distributing each dumpling evenly over the surface. Return to the stove top and bring to a gently simmer over low heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and continue simmering for 18-22 minutes, or until dumplings are puffy and cooked through. Remove the cover and let cool 15 minutes before serving.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.