It’s been so long since I’ve written for my blog, I’ll probably have to re-learn the format when I go to post this.
It’s not that I haven’t been cooking—I have—just not as much as I would like. There was a lot going on in the garden this summer as well, with plenty of pictures to prove it. There were field trips both near and far, filled with plunging waterfalls, vibrant farmer’s markets, tapestries of vineyards, joyous artwork, and loads and loads of flowers! I even took photos at almost every place I went, so I could share with you at a later date. Really, I did. But somehow, writing slipped off of the priority list, and nothing ever made it to print.
The road to a very warm place is paved with good intentions, or so I’ve been told…
So, to get the old blog ball rolling again, there’s nothing better than cake.
It could be just me, but I think there is nothing like cake for most
apologies things—especially if it’s chocolate cake—and since everyone needs a good (and simple!) chocolate cake recipe in their arsenal, here is my favorite.
Rich, moist, dark, and fragrant—it has been my ‘go-to’ cake for many more years than I care to admit to. With the accompanying frosting recipe, it bakes up in a hurry. This cake is best though, if you can make and frost it the night before you actually plan to serve it, as a few extra hours gives the flavor a chance to develop and deepen.
Enjoy! Oh, and thanks for coming back—I’ve missed you!
Quick Dark Chocolate Cake
1 ¾ cups un-sifted flour
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water. I actually replace most of the water with coffee.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour two 9 inch or three 8 inch round pans.
In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients.
Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla and beat at medium speed for two minutes.
Carefully stir in the boiling water. The batter will be very thin.
Pour into the prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes for 9 inch pans, 20-25 minutes for 8 inch pans. Be careful NOT to over-bake. Let the layers rest in the pan for 9 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely before frosting.
Simple Dark Chocolate Buttercream
1 and ½ sticks of room temperature butter (12 Tblsp)
1 cup cocoa powder
5 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
Cream the butter until it’s fluffy.
Beat in the cocoa, sugar, and milk, dividing up and alternating between each.
Beat in the vanilla
This will make more frosting than you need for this cake, but you can freeze the leftover and use later for brownies, frosted graham crackers, or just sneaking out of the container when you’re desperate for chocolate. Of course, I’d never do that.
Shearing the lavender always makes me feel sad–a wistful sort of melancholy awareness that summer cannot last forever. I leave the faded stalks on the shrublets far longer than I should, because though the flowers have long since dried, the hummingbirds are hovering in it, searching out the last bits of purple for nectar.
Even now, it releases its dreamy, soothing fragrance as I walk through it–shears slicing carefully so that I don’t disturb the bees that dance in it still.
Adieu Lavande…à bientôt!
As much as I love to be in the kitchen, I never love grocery shopping. While I’m grateful for the abundance that I have, and the ability to purchase more when the need arises, I’d still rather just open the pantry or fridge and have whatever ingredients I need miraculously appear.
Also, there are days when being outdoors is a far more attractive option than the kitchen, and I want to spend every moment of the day out in the garden.
Yesterday was one of those days, and I was hit with the double whammy! It was the dreaded day-before-shopping-day (so not a lot of in-house options, gastronomically speaking) AND, it was a sparkling, warm, sunny day—abundant with birdsong and roses—begging for me to be out in it!
There were bumblebees working furiously in the catmint, goldfinches waiting to furrow up my newly planted basil seed, and so much meltingly warm sunshine that all thoughts of anything not garden-related were fast disappearing.
When the two of these realities collided, suddenly there was the possibility that the husband would come home to something-not-his-idea-of-dinner. And though he doesn’t complain, it’s not his favorite way to end the day.
So what’s a pantry-challenged, gardening girl to do? How to maximize the time in the garden without compromising dinnertime? (And no, pizza delivery was not an option, although peanut butter and jam sandwiches might have been. I just haven’t figured out what wine goes with PBJ yet…)
The first thing I had to do—and what I hope to encourage you to do, is to…
Be brave and fearless in the kitchen! After all, the very worst thing that could happen is that your creation fails. Then you just send out for pizza, or make PBJ’s, or popcorn! (Well, I suppose the worst thing is that you might set your kitchen on fire, but I’ve never had that happen. The living room, yes, twice, but that’s another story, unrelated to cooking. Oh, and the garage wall—that one WAS related to cooking, but I digress.)
As I was saying, don’t be afraid to get creative! Of course, it helps if you have a few ‘staples’ on hand (like peanut butter) but the most important thing is to have some courage and imagination! Don’t worry about failing—nobody in your house will starve.
One caveat thought—I don’t recommend this approach when you have dinner guests coming unless (A) you don’t want them to come back, or (B) you are very adept in the kitchen.
Here’s how I solved my dining dilemma. I had dinner done, stowed away in the fridge, and was back out to the garden in twenty-five minutes! It would have been twenty, but I stopped to shoot a few photos first.
Since this is not a post about provisioning a kitchen, I won’t go into the whole inventory of what’s always on hand in my kitchen, but because it’s not possible to create something out of nothing, a few of the basics that I try NEVER to be out of—
Some type of pasta
olives (I keep a large jar of kalamatas in the fridge)
a couple of different vinegars
It’s actually a slightly longer list, but this gives you a little idea of what I keep on hand so that I always have something to fall back on.
Now here’s where the creative part comes in.
After considering my options (and the speed with which I wanted to get back outside) I decided on a ‘main-dish’ salad to have out on the patio, one that would go with one of my prizes from last Friday’s field trip to Hood River and the Gorge.
A quick re-con of the fridge and pantry yielded half a bag of shell pasta, olives, artichoke hearts, half a red onion, some almost forgotten but still redeemable celery, a third of a head of romaine lettuce, half of a red bell pepper, and the most remarkable treasure—a pint jar of home canned albacore that a friend had given me some time ago—forgotten about because it was cleverly hiding behind some buckwheat flour.
Out it all came, and while the pasta was boiling, I chopped the onion (saving some for another use), olives, artichokes, celery and a couple of cloves of garlic.
Next I prepped the last of the lettuce for a tossed salad, adding some paper-thin slices of red bell pepper and the remnant of red onion. I tucked it away in the fridge with a damp paper towel on top, and at dinner-time all it would need would be the addition of a ‘must-be-eaten-today’ avocado and some balsamic vinaigrette (another thing I make each week and keep on hand).
When the shells were done and drained, in went the chopped vegetables together with the albacore, some olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, fresh cracked pepper, a few red chili flakes, and…
These two salads, accompanied with something crisp, minerally, and white to drink (I chose a beautiful white blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris from COR Cellars, appropriately called ‘AlbaCOR) came together for a fine meal. I know it wanted a bit of crusty bread, but there was no way I was going to bake. I could have taken the stale baguette from several days ago and turned it into crostini, but I didn’t come in from the garden in time.
Here’s my guide for last night’s creation;
½ a bag of small shell pasta (or whatever pasta you have—even grains would work)
1 pint jar of albacore (or can of tuna, or left-over chicken, steak, or no meat at all)
½ cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or any other olive)
½ cup artichoke hearts, chopped
½ a red onion, chopped fine (or any other color onion, or chives, or shallots)
2 ribs of celery, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Olive oil (or mayonaisse or some other oil)
White wine vinegar (or another vinegar, mustard, or lemonjuice)
red chili flakes (or other seasonings – your only limits are what’s in your cupboard!)
or some other type of dressing—be as creative as you need to!
There are no amounts on the dressing ingredients, because I didn’t set out with the idea that this would be posted. I only want to encourage you to be confident with what you have on hand. Add the dressing ingredients in conservative increments, then adjust them to suit your tastes. You can always add more, but you can never take them out once they’re in!
I hope your day is lovely, and that you only have peanut butter for dinner if that’s what you really want!
And please, comment on what some of your ‘must-haves’ in the pantry are, and how you use them to get dinner quickly!
Thanks for coming to see me. And now, off to the garden I go (as soon as I grocery shop).
Good Morning my friends!
It’s the dawning of what promises to be a gorgeous late–spring Friday—a mid 70’s, sunshine, top-down (on the car), day-off kind of day—so I’m abandoning my garden
and headed out shortly for an adventure with friends to Hood River, Oregon. We’re visiting wineries, gardens, shops and cafés in what I hear is an exceptionally lovely town, so I’m dashing this off as I throw together the essentials for the day—including my camera, which I am notorious for leaving behind.
I love ‘Field-Trip-Fridays’, and though I used to have them frequently, it’s been awhile since I’ve set out to explore a new place. I’m anticipating a glorious day of food, friends and fun!
By the way, if you’re off adventuring on a Friday this summer and you’re in the eastern Willamette Valley, come visit at Alexeli Vineyard and Winery. I’ll be there through the summer—out in Heidi’s beautiful vineyard garden—pouring the lovely Malbec (as well as Muller-Thurgau, Reisling, Gewurz and of course—Pinot Noir) for you to taste.
Happy Friday to you all, my friends! Enjoy this day and whatever adventure it brings your way!