Like many of you, early fall is my favorite time of year. I’ve unpacked extra blankets and sweaters, started to visit our local apple orchard on a nearly weekly basis, and I’m taking every opportunity to spend time outside before the daylight hours fade.
The last few weekends have been been full of visitors and it has been a pleasure to show friends and family around town. I took advantage of the associated car access and we visited abandoned train cars, historic round barns, the Allerton estate, and the former Chanute Air Force Base. It’s hard to believe that I’ll be done with my degree in December. Time has flown by and this little town has grown on me.
To welcome my guests I bought a few bottles of wine and made a double batch of my favorite pickles. This recipe is perfect for late summer/early fall when zucchini is plentiful. The pickles have a familiar sweet and sour flavor with a few extra special touches: turmeric and mustard.
Zucchini Turmeric Pickles
Adapted from the Zuni Café
1 lb zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 Tbl kosher salt
2 C cider vinegar
1 C sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds (I used brown)
Scant 1 tsp ground turmeric
Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; I used a mandoline. Do the same with the onion. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt.
After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini — it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric. Simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (You don’t want the brine to cook your crisp pickles.)
Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.
How is it that I never seem to realize the days are getting shorter until the first cool September day? Suddenly the sunlight looks a bit warmer on my bike ride home from work, summer flowers are few and far between, and neighborhood gardens are bursting with tomatoes and zucchinis. I’m one of the most enthusiastic autumn-lovers you can find, but the changing seasons aren’t without a bit of sadness to see another summer come to a close. Luckily, Peach Coffee Cake is the perfect recipe to ease the transition.
Midwesterners, be sure to visit your farmers market over the next two weeks to get the last of the juicy freestone peaches. Tell them you are baking, and perhaps your farmer will throw in a few slightly bruised extras like mine did. (What a nice treat!) Though, if you can’t find any, this recipe will also work well with plums or apricots.
Peach Coffee Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Dimply Plum Cake
1 1/2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Scant 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
5 Tbl unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 C flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 freestone peaches, pitted and halved*
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.
Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
In a second medium bowl and working with a mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each egg goes in. Still working on medium speed, beat in the oil, zest and vanilla—the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.
Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the peaches cut side up in the batter, jiggling the peaches a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and puffed around the peaches and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes—during which time the peach juice will seep back into the cake—then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.
Once cool, dust the cake with powdered sugar to serve.
(*I used four halves in the center of the cake. Then, I cut away the bruised parts of large peach and sliced the remaining pieces. I placed these smaller pieces along the perimeter of the cake, making sure a bit of batter remained between the baking pan and the peach slices.)
My final semester of graduate school began last week. It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since I moved away from Chicago. I left the city overwhelmed and burned out after several years in nonprofit development. I didn’t have much of an end goal when I started library school. I was simply eager for a change. In the last twelve months I’ve had the opportunity to meet many fascinating and brilliant people, to visit new places, to commute by bike for the first time in years, to encounter new ways of thinking about information, how people seek it, and how to organize it. I’ve even started to find my own focus in the field. It’s been wonderful to be back in school. I plan to thoroughly enjoy these last few months.
In additional to my library courses, I stepped a bit out of my comfort zone and signed up for a studio art course on RAW photography. I haven’t taken an art class since middle school and I’m ecstatic to be doing so again. I’m the only student from outside the art department, and while I’m slightly afraid of looking foolish, I couldn’t be happier.
The start of the academic year means that falling leaves and sweaters are right around the corner. These last few weeks of late summer are always my favorite, with milder temperatures and perfect tomatoes. Here is a healthier take on traditional tabbouleh that calls for some of the abundant summer herbs and vegetables that are still available.
1 C black quinoa – rinsed
1/2 medium cucumber – peeled, seeded, and diced
2 medium tomatoes – seeds squeezed out and diced (I used one red and one yellow)
1/4 medium red onion – diced
3 garlic cloves – minced
2 C flat-leaf parsley – stems removed and chopped
1/2 C mint – stems removed and chopped
2 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Bring two cups of salted water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the quinoa, turn down the heat to medium-low, and cover. Simmer about 20 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked and fluffy.
When the quinoa is cooked, pour off any excess water and add the quinoa to a large bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and salt and pour the dressing over the quinoa. Stir to combine evenly. Add the cucumber, tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, and mint. Stir to combine. Add additional salt and lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate and serve chilled.
I’m in Glacier National Park hiking with my family for two weeks before my last semester of graduate school begins in late August. In my absence, I’d like to give you a taste of one of my favorite bakeries. (A version of this story originally appeared on Gapers Block.)
If you have ever had the opportunity to enjoy an extended backcountry hiking trip, you are surely familiar with the campfire moment when you begin to fantasize about your first meal off the trail. If you happen to find yourself in northwest Montana, hiking in the North Fork Valley, you will likely be fantasizing about Polebridge Mercantile. This general store, bakery, and gas station is a mile from the northwest entrance to Glacier National Park and the only bakery between the Apgar ranger station and the Canadian border. Though, even without that distinction, Polebridge would be worth the long, gravel road drive.
Built in 1914, Polebridge hosts a large and eclectic staff from all corners of the country. The faces change from year to year, but the one thing they all have in common is a passion for the great outdoors and this little town in the middle of nowhere. Polebridge Mercantile bakes all day long, seven days a week, turning out loaves of bread, cookies, and sweet and savory pastries. Few items have a chance to completely cool before they are on their way to the trailhead with a happy customer.
Pastries run a dollar and change and a baker’s dozen of their cookies are only $5. Don’t miss the huckleberry macaroons, the spinach and blue cheese pastries with garlic and poppy seeds (pictured above), or their sticky buns. They also sell excellent hot and cold sandwiches and breads.
Polebridge sells a wide variety of home and camp supplies, toiletries, food, and beverages. The big porch and picnic tables out front provide the perfect invitation to enjoy one of the regional microbrews they sell while you take in the mountains surrounding this picturesque corner of the world.
Camping is plentiful, but Polebridge also rents cabins on their property for $45 a night. Call ahead for details and be mindful that the area is fairly inaccessible for much of the year without serious snow equipment. Remember to sweeten up the hard-working Apgar rangers with a bakery delivery on your way back south.
265 Polebridge Loop
Polebridge, MT, 59928
This has been the first summer that has really felt like summer to me in a long time. Soaring temperatures, breezy bike rides, patio drinking, vacations, great food, old friends, new friends, grad school classes, and barely a moment to sit still – just the way I like it.
I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time with my family this summer and we recently had a large reunion for my father’s side of the family. My grandparents had six children and – counting spouses and great grandchildren – there are about 40 of us now. We are lucky to be so close-knit for a large family, especially considering that we are spread throughout the country and the world.
The driving force behind this family reunion was to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday. That’s the two of us in 1986 and again just recently. We spent three days in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin dining, going through old photos, and enjoying my grandfather’s land. I’m hoping I inherited some of my grandparent’s good genes – they are both in excellent shape. In fact, my grandfather’s birthday gift was a new chainsaw and he and my father are out at the land clearing away fallen trees from the most recent storm as I write this.
It’s hard to believe it is already August. I’ve started to frantically make all of the summer dishes that I know I will miss when late September rolls around. Growing up, strawberry shortcake usually included store bought angel food cake. While I still have a special place in my heart for that distinctive flavor, you can’t beat the real thing. The shortcakes in this recipe are easy to make and it’s worth turning on the oven for in the hot August heat.
For the shortcakes:
4 C all-purpose flour
2 Tbl baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
6 Tbl sugar
1 ½ sticks (12 Tbl) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ C cold heavy cream
I use Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Tender Shortcakes, which you can find here.
For the strawberries and cream:
2 lb fresh strawberries, rinsed
2 Tbl sugar
1 ½ C cold heavy cream
Thinly slice the strawberries. Add to a medium bowl and add the sugar. Gently toss the strawberries to coat and let them sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, periodically stirring to distribute the sugar. Refrigerate until you are ready to use the mixture.
Just before you are ready to serve the strawberry shortcakes, add the heavy cream to medium bowl and whip with a hand mixer until light and airy. Don’t over mix.
To serve, place a shortcake on a plate (you can gently slice them in half if you’d like, but I leave them whole), top with a few dallops of whipped cream and a few spoonfuls of strawberries.