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the cherry manifesto

July 11th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

I went a bit crazy over cherries recently. After discovering them at a local market for $2.98 a pound one week, I splurged and bought nearly 18 pounds worth of them. Then barely two weeks after that, the same market had them for $1.97 a pound and I bought about 8 more pounds.

I know. Whoa, girl. And it begs the question….. just what did I DO with all those cherries??? Besides gleefully stuff them in my mouth. Which I did a lot of, mind you. They are so crisp and perfect and juicy. I could hardly help myself and I’m pretty sure my veins ran thick with deep, dark cherry juice for a few days. I know our kitchen looked like a battle zone following some of our marathon pitting sessions. Griffin was really helpful in that regard, gleefully pitting fruit shirtless so he could comment on how he looked like a mass murderer. Ha. Kids.

For the past several years, we’ve managed to just about eat our weight in cherries when they come in season; it’s one of our all-time favorite fruits and each year as we slurp through a sack of them, our fingers turning purple in our consumption, we’ve always talked about trying to dry them for future use. We have a huge Harvest Maid dehydrator, and dried cherries are one of Mike’s favorite items to put in his daily yogurt, but at almost $10 a pound for them, we don’t keep them on hand much at all. So faced with this year’s bounty, the first goal was to dehydrate as much as possible. Thankfully, a trio of helpful hands made the job of pitting and slicing them a bit easier, and our first batch came through successfully. So successful that I turned around and dried a whole dehydrator full of them again. We were left with about 3 quarts of dried fruit, and Mike’s eyes shone with anticipation.

The process to dry them takes up to 12 hours; we pitted the fruit and sliced them in half, then started the dehydrator at 145° for two hours right around dinnertime. At that point, we turned it down to 125°, placed it in our mudroom (that thing is loud, y’all) and forgot about it until the next morning.

For more inspiration, I scoured the internets, implored friends and sought out anything cherry related for several days. My eyes popped in excitement upon finding a Chocolate Cherries recipe, soaking ripe cherries in chocolate simple syrup and a few quarts of those went in the fridge.

Here’s the link to that procedure; it ridiculously simpleDark Chocolate Cherries. The worst part of doing these was to keep them in the fridge for two weeks. I’m sure I could have consumed them earlier, but part of me loved the idea of anticipating such a treat. And what a treat they were; lush and plump with a rich taste of chocolate amidst the sweet fruit. Dropping them over a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream, drizzled with the chocolate-y liquid was a sensory adventure of taste and delight.

I roasted a batch of fruit too, sprinkled with dark brown muscavado sugar and drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar. Sprinkled with chopped mint, they were mind-blowing; warm and soft, sweet and slightly tangy all at once. They will make a wonderful addition to yogurt, or on top of ice cream, or better yet, turned in to my favorite brownies for a sweet treat. Another wonderful treat for these roasted beauties was to spread some ricotta cheese on good sourdough bread and top it with the fruit. Make it even better by gently broiling the ricotta first.

Here’s my method for roasting the fruit:

Roasted Cherries

Pit and de-stem one sack of fresh cherries, removing any that are bruised or moldy. Heat oven to 450°. Place cherries on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar of choice- it can be brown sugar, cane sugar or any type of specialty sugar. Use about 2-3 tablespoons and just dust the tops of the cherries. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the cherries swell and release some of their juices. Mix about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar in with a cup of water. Drizzle over cherries, shake to distribute and place back in oven for a few more minutes, allowing the juices to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool. Sprinkle with finely chopped mint and place in a jar with a few mint sprigs overnight. Remove mint the following day.

For another batch of fruit I made a Cherry Ginger Butter from my friend Amanda. It comprised my very first water-bath canning experiment and went off without a hitch. I was impatient though, and didn’t allow the fruit to completely cook down so the end result was more of a fruit sauce but it’s still an incredible flavor. And it gave me the canning bug so hopefully I can do some more with that as the bountiful summer season winds down.

And you know what?? Another local market is having a Cherry Blow-Out starting on Thursday!! Cherries at $2.99/lb AGAIN. Yikes!! Good thing there are other inspirational ideas that I found:

Cherry Balsamic Vinegar

Martha Washington’s Preserved Cherries

Cherry Cornmeal Cake

Cherry Crumble





summer speaks

July 6th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

This summer is no usual summer for me. At least not like the past five or so years when the span between May and September often found me barefoot, my head in the breezes and most likely staring down a day with little to no agenda. No, my friends, this summer is much different. There won’t be any tan lines, probably no exhilarating rides around the lake atop a kneeboard and it’s quite possible that my swimsuit will stay tucked away in the drawer. Which is kind of sad- I really like that suit.

I’m working a lot- as expected, and surprisingly, when I’m deep in my work, and not partaking in the forays into summertime that are going on around me, I don’t find myself wistfully gazing off into space, my knife in hand, fighting off an emotional tugging at my heart over what I’m missing. The moment that white coat goes on and I pick up my knife case, heading up to the kitchen with an armload of towels, my hair twisted at the nape of my neck, the rest of the world falls away and my passion takes over. I don’t miss out on anything because I am right where I want to be. Often I catch a glance out the back door of the kitchen, when someone opens it to toss out the cardboard boxes, and I see the blue sky above the tree line, sometimes peppered with fleecy cloud, but there isn’t an urge to drop what I’m doing and step out into the warmth. In fact, when I do go outside at meal time and gaze off over the lake, I have a moment of appreciation for the glorious summer weather, but I shrug it off and head back inside to do what needs to get done.

And no one is more surprised by this than I am. I’ve discovered a great deal about myself in the past two months at this job. Where I used to think that I could never spend another summer indoors, chained to a time clock, slogging through task after task, what I never realized before is that when you’re deep in a profession that you feel you were created to do, the hours slip away and the rest of the world ceases to matter until the day is done. If I struggled before to get through my work day, it’s because I hated what I was doing. There was no passion involved in the work. I may have been skilled, capable and good at what I was doing for 8 hours a day, but my heart didn’t swell with anticipation each time I stepped up to the plate. I cared enough to do what needed to get done, but it never stirred me. Now I’m being stirred each day, loving what I do and eager to go above and beyond to get done what needs to get done. I’ve discovered what it means to truly, truly love your job. And I’m so grateful for that.

And summertime, the sweetest months in Minnesota, are moving past me at the usual rapid rate and really, I’m fine with it. Still, the time that I do have to enjoy the sunshine has been more sweet and appreciated, simply because I know that it’s limited and I need to get out there, even if it means just taking a walk through my garden. In there, the summer is in full swing, strong and vocal and clamoring to be heard. With being so busy, I find myself living much more in the moment than I have in a very long time. For there’s no fretting about the future these days, there’s no financial stress or concern about wearing ourselves out tugging so hard at life to make it’s ends meet. And while I do know that this will come to an end, I can’t think about that. There’s still so much ahead, so much to learn, to do and to experience and many, many more days of work before it’s time to stop, to rest and to re-focus. For now, it’s nice to just ‘be’

My favorite time in the garden has arrived- it’s Hollyhock time!!

Every year I allow the Hollyhocks to take free range over wherever they decide to grow and am always amply rewarded with towering stalks and gigantic buttons of eye-popping color. These deep red ones on the left are a standard, jutting out against the pale backdrop of the house, offering a rich haven for lazy droning Bumblebees. The lovely pale yellow also come up each year.

This year’s surprise color is this gorgeous pink.

Almost every season brings a new color, one that’s morphed from a previous plant. This pink is so stunning, light and delicate around the edges with deep magenta accents in the center and along a few petals. The first bloom of this took my breath away.

Another surprise color this year is this lovely salmon.

I’ve gotten full on pink flowers in previous years, but this one shows more orange, giving it a nicer and richer color than just plain pink. The stalk of these bloomed so profusely that it fell over after a few days, so thick with blossoms. That’s the one drawback of the Hollyhock. It collapses under the weight of it’s own beauty.

This super delicate pink comes up every year. The center is a lovely rose color.

Here’s another return visitor each summer. The golden petals are set off by a deeper pink center that almost looks orange.

A brighter yellow made an appearance this year too.

And on top of it being prime Hollyhock time, the Echinacea are in bloom

One variety of DayLily managed to bloom this year. The others set their buds, which then dried up. Mysterious, huh? This one of my favorite though. It’s so exotic and beautiful.

The very delicate and lacey Scabiosa have also started blooming.

These lovely flowers, waving from atop a thin but sturdy stem are wholly dependent on sunshine to unravel their frilly petals one at a time. One day I will look and see a few swollen buds, then over a few sunny days, the tiny petals unfurl like tentative sails until they are all gloriously open and blowing in the breeze. I have three Scabiosa plants that should have a variety of colors. So far, all that’s opened has been white, but the others are now blooming and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised soon.

The Bee Balm has opened it’s thin petals, much to the delight of the roaming Bumblebees.

The Phlox stands tall and proud with deep pink fists of color.

And rounding out the current events in the garden is the ever cheerful and sunny Coreopsis.

The funnest part about the Coreopsis is that the petals sort of resemble duck feet.

Summer is also speaking warmly from the vegetable patch, with tiny tomatoes and peppers, abundant Thyme and Oregano. The wily resident rabbit has been fenced out of foraging on my vegetable plants, and I still see him, gazing wistfully through the barrier at the bounty he can no longer destroy. I don’t mind if he wants to gobble up all the sunflower sprouts, but he won’t be making a salad bar out of my food, thank you.

And another loud exclamation of summer? A sunny morning, complete with fresh cherries in a homemade bowl on faded redwood steps.

I hope your summer is happily bending your ear with it’s tales of sunshine and play, that there’s glorious fruits and vegetables filling your lives and tummies. Any surprises at your end? Please share them so we can all find the joy in this exquisite and fleeting time.

Cherry Poppyseed Scones

January 4th, 2009 | 2 Comments »

By the time Christmas rolled around this year, I’d done so much baking that I was really fed up with it, and I kinda thought that I wouldn’t want to see any more butter or flour or sugar for a very long time. I was tired of the futziness, the precision, the exact timing to prevent burnt cookies- eww!- and especially the clean up.

Ok, so I lasted maybe a week. Maybe.


But then I had a craving for a scone. And not for a ‘scone’ like a standard hockey puck offering from a coffee shop type of scone- a blob as dry and flavorless as sawdust and so bad that you might as well call it a STONE- no, I wanted a scone, people. I wanted light and airy, tender on the inside and slightly crusted on the outside. I wanted…..well, I wanted what’s in that photo, and wow, did it deliver.

The desire for such a breakfast delight actually came to me as I was falling asleep one night; I decided that I wanted to make fresh scones and the next morning it came back to the brain like a train hurtling at me top speed. I popped up off the couch, the morning sun blazing in on me, the cats and my steaming cup of coffee and strode purposefully into the kitchen, scones on the mind, digging out the perfect cookbook and turning, almost instinctively, to the recipe I needed. Sorry- it’s from that anonymous chef that I’m embarrassed to like- no love- and the cookbooks of his that I have. With some twists of my own, I had my scones, and they were perfect.

Dried Cherry Poppyseed Scones
anonymous Food Network chef

2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
3 T. poppyseeds
5 T. butter, cold
1 c. milk or cream
1 c. dried cherries

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place parchment on a cookie sheet.  Place cherries in a heat proof bowl. Boil water to vigorous bubbles and pour just enough in the bowl to cover the cherries. Stir to combine and allow to sit, stirring occasionally until the water is tepid and the fruit soft. Drain the fruit, reserving the juice.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and poppyseeds. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. You want to leave larger pieces of butter. Make a well in the center and add the milk, stir to just combine everything, making sure you scrape across the bottom of the bowl. Toss the drained fruit with just enough flour to coat them lightly, then add to the dough, stirring carefully until just incorporated.

Lightly flour your countertop and turn the dough out. With your hands, shape into a square, roughly about 10″x12″ or so. With a sharp knife, bench scraper or spatula, cut the square into four equal portions, then cut each portion in half, corner to corner, to form triangles. Carefully lift the triangles with a spatula onto your prepared sheet. Alternately, you can scoop the dough straight from the bowl to the cookie sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Allow to cool.

For a glaze, combine reserved juice with about 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar and a little melted butter. Drizzle over scones before serving.

Even with my dairy intolerance, I prefer to use butter in my baked goods, and it doesn’t cause me as much misery as milk or cheese so I roll with it. I subbed vanilla soymilk for the cream with perfect results. The original recipe called for fresh blueberries but it’s January in Minnesota and that ain’t happening. Currants would also be delicious, or maybe chopped apricots, figs or even dates. The glaze I made was very thin, and it’s also totally optional. These taste slightly sweet, with that good baking powder biscuit-y kind of texture; light, fluffy and tender and utterly delicious.

Chocolate Cherry Bread

December 6th, 2007 | 4 Comments »


Chocolate-Cherry Bread (original recipe from David Lebovitz)

Makes 2 loaf

1 1/2 cups (210g) dried cherries, well-chopped
1 1/4 cup (170g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or natural)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons (140g) butter (salted or unsalted), at room temperature
2 cups (400g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (180g) buttermilk or plain yogurt (regular or low-fat)
1 cup (135g) walnuts, pecans, or almonds, toasted and finely-chopped
3/4 cup (120g) chocolate chips

To bake the cakes, grease two 9-inch (23 cm) loaf pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper or dust with cocoa powder. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C)

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Stir together the eggs and yolk with the vanilla, then dribble them in while beating.

Mix in one-third of the flour/cocoa mixture, then half of the yogurt or buttermilk. Then mix in another third of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the yogurt. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients, and gently stir in the nuts, chocolate chips and cherries.

Divide and smooth the batter into the two prepared loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand on the countertop for about 15 minutes.

Recipe Notes: I did not have yogurt or buttermilk so I used sour cream and it turned out fine, albeit very moist. I think vanilla yogurt would add a great flavor to this bread. I did not follow David’s original recipe of macerating the dried cherries in liquor; he used rum I believe, about a half cup, maybe and left the fruit overnight, stating that what liquid was not absorbed could be added to the batter after draining off the fruit in a mesh strainer. Chopping dried fruit of any kind is very messy and sticky; I dusted the cherries with a little cocoa powder to see if it would help. It did, and didn’t. I did not use parchment on the pans, just cocoa. One loaf went in the freezer.