The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Fall

A cake of citrus and teff

It feels so nice to sit down at the computer for a moment. To breathe. To sigh. To let things sink in just a little. It’s been a difficult week. I’ve spent most of every day sitting in the hospital with my Dad and my family. Watching him sleep. Watching him trying to eat and not being able to. Cleaning him up when his meals come back up.  Encouraging him to walk, to get out of bed, catching him when he collapses. Wondering what is going through his mind. So many emotions. I wouldn’t k now how to begin to describe them.

I made this cake several weeks ago, before things had gotten bad. It feels like a different time, even a different life when I made it.  It was such a pleasant day, one of those days where everything has a sense of harmony to it, things click along with ease. I woke up to the rain pounding down on the roof and I decided to make a cake. I made coffee, turned on a CD of Garrison Keillor stories and started baking. The falling rain, the smells of burnt sugar and citrus wafting through the house, the warmth of the oven – made everything feel like a happy dream. What I remember most from that day is hearing Garrison say, in one of his many Lake Wobegon stories, that friendship is a thing that comes about when you discover a mutual need in another. It stuck with me.

And now, several weeks later, those words have taken on a deeper meaning for me. In all of those moments when I discover all the ways that I need and am needed – when I hold my Dad’s hand and I know it says more than words; when I walk with my Mom while he’s sleeping and we laugh and vent and comfort each other; when my sister and I stay up until midnight talking – I feel that need that ties us all together.  Because I think that need that Garrison was speaking of – that dependency people feel, the sense that another fills some requirement of your spirit that you just can’t survive without – I think that’s what creates the feeling of family too. Knowing that you are needed, and knowing that you need.

So here is the recipe, a perfect cake for sharing with the people you need (and love) most.

A Cake of Citrus and Teff

I used a few Seville oranges I had left over from marmalade making, but lemon would be perfect too since not everyone has Seville oranges knocking around. This is what I like to call an afternoon cake – not too sweet, a little more on the wholesome side – something you could snack on with a cup of tea.

Topping:

  • 1 lemon, sliced thinly into rounds
  • 2 tbs demerara sugar
  • 4 tbs water

Cake

  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup teff flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup demerara sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 4oo degrees F and line a 9 inch springform pan with parchment. (Or use a 9 inch loaf pan).

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan with the lemon slices. Simmer until most of the liquid has been evaporated (about 5 minutes) and the lemons are sticky and delicious. Set aside.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix till combined.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the citrus zest and vanilla extract and stir to combine.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, and mix until well combined

Add the flour mixture, the milk and the lemon juice and stir until everything is incorporated.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan and arrange the sticky lemon slices over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before taking out of the pan and serving.

 

Update 5/26/12: My mind must truly be more out of it than I thought because someone quietly and sweetly pointed out to me this morning that there was no sugar listed in the ingredients but there was in the directions. Whoops! I’ve fixed that in the recipe now, but I truly apologize for any confusion or unsweet cakes that have resulted from that mistaken omission.

Japanese style pickled burdock

In the past several years, I have become addicted to preserving things. I can’t seem to help myself. The thought of all those little jars full of goodness accumulating in my pantry  fills me with the warmest feelings of happiness and contentment. It’s like having money in the bank, those jars. Things to look forward too. I find myself mapping out the year in what preserves I will make – rhubarb jam in May, Strawberry in June, bread and butter pickles in July.  I have an endless list.

And I’ll tell you, that deep down, what I’m really drawn to about the whole thing is the idea that somehow, I can capture time in a jar. Does that sound mad? I believe it though. There is more than just strawberries in my jam. There is June sunshine, long lazy days of blue skies, lightning bugs and warm muggy afternoons when the thunderheads roll through. All of that is in there too.  When you preserve something,  you also  preserve a little bit of time, a memory, a thousand sensations. And then you open it up months later and all that is there to taste. June sunshine on a dull February afternoon. It’s a thought that makes me happy.

I was making my spring list of things to pickle, jam and capture in jars, when my good friend Iris called. Iris is one of those truly remarkable people that seem never to be phased by anything. While I am panicking and worrying and over-reacting to just about everything that is ridiculous and unimportant , she goes about in her gentle and easy way, handling the most horrendous of happenings as though they were nothing at all.  This is saying something too, as she is a single mother and the owner of her own herbal products company, which she runs single-handedly.  A remarkable person, as I said. Just being in her presence makes one calm, as though the world has just slowed down a few paces and grown far less complicated than it was before.

Anyhow, Iris called me up to ask me if I might like to collaborate with her again on her seasonal herb share program. We did one back in the winter – packed with elderberry syrup, echinacea, immune soups and the like – which turned out quite a success. So she wanted to keep going with a spring theme this time. I want you to make something that falls more into the food category she said (doesn’t she know me well?). Maybe something with spring greens, or something rooty. It just has to be shelf-stable. 

Well, it didn’t take long for me to pick. Burdock pickles. I make them every year in early spring, and they, along with all my other favorite must have jams and pickles, are an important marker in the succession of the year. There is burdock pickle time just as there is tomato sauce time and canned peaches time. It’s a time of shoots rising, leaves unfurling, damp earthy soil and roots to be dug.

Burdock, to give you a little background,   is a common garden and wayside weed with remarkable medicinal qualities. Herbalists like to call it a “tonic” because it does just that – gently tonifies and strengthens the body, from the digestive tract and liver to the immune system and lymphatics, when used over a period of time. For this reason, I love to consume a little burdock each day at the change of the seasons (spring and fall) to support my body as it adapts to the seasonal transition. In Japan it is touted not just for its medicinal benefit, but as a delicious food as well – a crisp, nutty root with a distinctive sweet flavor that can only be described as burdock. These pickles are my favorite way to get my daily burdock dosage and savor its delicious and unique flavor.

So burdock pickles it was. I headed out with my shovel for an afternoon of root digging, root scrubbing, root chopping and root pickling that ended in a half a dozen glittering glass jars packed with burdock roots, ginger, chile and garlic. Four of them went off with Iris for the  spring herb shares (and to be sold at the Montpelier farmer’s market this Saturday – look for the Grian Herbs booth) and two of them have joined the many other jars of deliciousness in my pantry. And of course, burdock isn’t all you’ll find in those jars.  The damp earthiness in the air, the feelings of mud between your fingers, the unfolding of leaves, the rising up of shoots. It’s all there too. You just have to open it up and taste it.

Pickled Burdock Root

You can also find burdock (or Gobo) in Asian markets or well stocked grocery stores, if you haven’t the chance to go dig some up yourself.

  • 4-5 medium-sized burdock roots
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • a two-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 red chili sliced thinly (or 1 – 2 tsp red chili flakes)
  •  apple cider vinegar
  •  tamari
  •  sake

Scrub the roots well to remove any dirt and then peel away the rough outer skin. On larger roots, the outer layer can simply be peeled away by hand though on smaller roots you will need to use a vegetable peeler.

Cut the roots into 1 inch long segments, and then julienne them into matchstick size strips. Alternately, you can slice the roots into thin rounds, about 1/8 inch thick if you prefer a larger sized pickle.

Place your prepared burdock into a pan and just cover with water. Bring the water to a boil for 2-3 minutes (just enough to soften the roots slightly) and then remove from heat. Remove the roots using a slotted spoon and place them in a clean bowl, reserving your cooking liquid.

Add the ginger, garlic and chili to the burdock and mix well. Then divide this mixture into 2 or 3 sterilized pint size mason jars, filling them to about an inch from the top. In each jar, you will fill 1/4 of the volume with apple cider vinegar, 1/4 with tamari, 1/4 with the burdock cooking liquid and 1/4 with sake. Cap tightly. At this point you can refrigerate until ready to use, or place them in a pressure cooker or water bath to seal and make them shelf-stable.

Savory apple crumble with squash, pork and rosemary

Recently I was watching a TED talk about longevity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those who have some insane obsession with living forever. But I am curious about why it is that certain cultures tend to live longer than others. Or more specifically, I should say, I’m interested in how they tend to live better. Because, when it comes down it, these cultures not only tend to have longer lives, but higher quality lives as well.

Quality of life – it’s a concept that we have trouble grasping here in the West, isn’t it?  I remember once a man coming up to me at a party after learning that I’d been studying herbalism and natural health. He nudged me with his drink, spilling some on my shoes, and said,  “You can’t live forever, you know.” When I asked him to explain what he meant, he gave me a knowing wink and said, “Why waste your time on salads and the like just to live a few years longer. Why not enjoy yourself a little before you go!” He held his drink up to make it clear to me just what kind of enjoyments he was endorsing, and wandered off to talk to someone who was not eating a salad.

But what he failed to grasp, and what a lot of people tend to misunderstand – even some who value health themselves – is that being healthy is actually about enjoying yourself. It just involves enjoyment of a deeper and more fulfilling nature than the more distracting sorts of surface enjoyments we tend to value in our modern-day. And despite what this particular man might have thought, being truly healthy has very little to do with pro-longing life either (that just tends to be an added perk).  Health is about valuing the life in front of you. About tending it with the loving care that is given to things that really matter. About celebrating each day in that deep and reverent way that makes your spirit sing and your time sacred.

I was thinking of all of this as I put together this crumble for dinner the other night, inspired by a recipe in Beatrice Peltre’s new cookbook, La Tartine Gourmande, of the same name as her wonderful blog. Her cookbook and her recipes are a true testament of the inspiring, celebratory and deeply gratifying nature that health should embody. They are a celebration of season, of the wisdom of cultural traditions, of simplicity, and of the amazing and profound flavors that come from fresh, wholesome, quality ingredients. It’s the sort of cooking that I love – the happy marriage of wholesomeness and deliciousness.

Because it was cold and snowy, I immediately gravitated towards the idea of a savory crumble (how have I never thought of this before?!?) and because there are only so many more weeks left of squashes and apples, I wanted to incorporate them in too. The crumble is wheat free – as many of her recipes are, but the focus is more on the inclusion of other more nutritious whole grain flours, and less on the absence of wheat, which I like. This is the recipe that was born from it, and as I sat down and ate it with the snow falling gently down outside, quality of life became more than just an esoteric concept. I can’t be sure if eating it added a month or a year to my life, but I can be sure that it added a good deal of joy and contentment to my day. And that is what health is really about.

Savory Apple Crumble with Squash, Pork and Rosemary

This recipe can easily omit the pork if you are vegetarian – just add an extra 1/4 cup of grated cheddar. You can make it in 4 individual ramekins or make it one casserole dish, depending on your preference.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 lbs of organic, pasture raised ground pork (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 2 apples, cored and chopped into 1 inch pieces (I leave the peel on)
  • 1 small kabocha squash (red kuri or butternut would also be good), peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • a handful of fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from the stems and minced + 4 whole sprigs
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar (I used Dubliner Cheddar)

For the crumble:

  • 1/3 cup amaranth or millet flour
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 6 tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When its had a chance to warm up, add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, until translucent. Add the pork and the allspice, and stir occasionally until the pork has begun to brown and is pretty much cooked – about 5 minutes. Add the apple, squash, garlic, ginger and rosemary and let cook for about 10 minutes, until the apples begin to soften and caramelize in places. Add the vegetable stock and cider along with the additional rosemary sprigs, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for a further 30 minutes.

While the filling is simmering away, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F and make your crumble topping. Place the flours, nuts and seeds, rosemary and a generous pinch of salt and pepper into a bowl. Add the cheddar and the butter, cut into small cubes, and work it into the flour with your fingertips, until you have a nice pebbly dough with no pebbles bigger than the size of a pea.

Once the vegetable and pork mixture has finished simmering away, take off the heat and stir through the cheddar. Portion the filling into 4 greased oven proof dishes or ramekins or into a casserole dish. Scatter the crumble mixture over the top, and place in the oven for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden on top. Serve with a simple green salad.