Christmas Stollen Madeleines with Preserved Lemon || Simple Bites

Christmas Stollen Madeleines with Preserved Lemon

Here’s a buttery, soft-spiced cake, studded with currants, slivers of almonds and a hint of candied orange peel, that makesa perfectly elegant holiday treat for breakfast, afternoon tea or dessert. Chopped preserved lemon adds a wonderfully tart touch to these stollen-inspired madeleines.

For me, Christmas preparations begin in the aisles of a gourmet bulk foods store with a wire basket slung over my arm studying arrays of tantalizing baking supplies.

I might be shopping for rolled oats and walnut halves so that we can make granola to gift to the school teachers. Other times my basket could hold a colourful assortment of candy for our after-school gingerbread project. There are always dried apricots and hazelnuts for my essential holiday fruit and nut crisps and loads of whole cloves so we can spend a snowy afternoon making orange pomander balls.

This year, I found myself stopping in front of a bin of beautiful candied orange peel that was sandwiched between the slightly more garish fruitcake mixed peel and the much-too-sweet candied pineapple chunks. My thoughts traveled back to a December afternoon long ago when Danny and I had worked side-by-side to produce a dozen stollen loaves straight out of the Joy of Cooking. We coated those beauties in powdered sugar, wrapped them in cellophane, and delivered them on Christmas Eve to loved ones. The German fruitcake makes a delicious breakfast, sliced and lightly toasted, with coffee, of course.

On an impulse, I scooped out a small bag of the perfectly cubed orange peel and added it my basket. I sought out dried currants and slivered almonds, too. Perhaps this would be the year I’d revisit a once-beloved holiday loaf.

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Triple Berry Scones || Simple Bites #baking

Eat Seasonal: Triple Berry Scones

It is a known fact that things don’t always go according to plan, and that includes gardening, weather and the seasons.

By now, early August, we should be hauling in tomatoes and cucumbers by the pounds, but the lack of heat has slowed everything down. My garden feels about a month behind; it’s looking ‘filled in’ but not quite ‘exploded’.

That’s all okay; I’m in no rush for those Romas or striped zucchini, because local berries are still front and centre. U-picks up and down the lanes are broadcasting blueberries and raspberries for the harvesting, and Quebec strawberries abound in the markets. Seasonal eating for us right now means gorgeous, jewel-hued berries enjoyed every which way. From salads to focaccia, pancake syrups to pies — and these breakfast scones, enjoyed on a recent Sunday morning.

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A simple, rustic wedding cake with fresh fruit and blackberry sauce

An island rental kitchen and a wedding cake

Come with me, if you will, for an afternoon at a sprawling rental cottage on a remote Pacific Northwest island called Cortes. My extended family and I have gathered here for a reunion and the wedding of my younger sister; the last Wimbush sibling is to be married.

For the most part, this is to be a handmade wedding, made entirely possible by our family unit coming together out of love. (Well that, and pound after pound of strong coffee.) It’s the day before the wedding and everywhere you look, people are preparing. In a shady patio, under the weave of kiwi vines, my brother and elder sister are hand painting wedding signs on smooth lengths of driftwood. On a nearby table, the bride is arranging sweet peas and foxglove into simple bouquets, rounded out with wild ivy and purple yarrow.

Down on the beach, my brother-in-law is gathering pearly white oyster shells to lay for an aisle and the groom is flexing his muscles while moving driftwood aside for a path. Over by the blackberry bushes that frame our ocean view, Danny is picking berries for the cake, a task only for the brave of heart. He gathers me a great big bowlful, and I simmer the berries with brown sugar and butter into a dark, jammy sauce to serve alongside the cake.

My mother is slicing eggplant, browning lamb, and whisking a bechamel for her famous moussaka, a dish that will feed us all at the end of this busy day. In a back bedroom, tucked away from sight, my mother-in-law is ironing a long white dress with lace and an elegant linen suit. My father is showing a few guests his favourite haunts around the island, and thus doing his bit to keep them out of our hair until dinnertime.

On the balcony overlooking the sea, my sister-in-law is plucking away at a ukulele and rehearsing “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” for the intimate beach ceremony. A few children are hard at work on handmade cards for the bride and groom, and the rest are hovering around my workspace, hoping for a taste of cake batter. I’ve got some leftover, so I bake off ten cupcakes and hand them around, much to their delight. First taste of the wedding cake!

The spacious kitchen looks out over a calm ocean inlet, where a few fishing boats are anchored and the tide rises and falls to show off a world-class oyster bed. I’ve just beat a dozen pale blue and green eggs with sugar and vanilla bean, folded in the flour together with the buttermilk and placed 8 round cakes pans in the oven. I’ve crossed my fingers that they will bake evenly, and I am flapping my arms at the herd of children that want to run through the kitchen at top speed. “These cakes will fall with all this stomping!” I holler, and shoo them outdoors where they will climb trees for apples and play Duck, Duck Goose on the grounds.

Soon enough I join the cousins under the hot July sun, armed with a wide-brimmed hat and a sharp knife. I walk the gardens of our VRBO and discover enough fruit growing that I decided to garnish the wedding cake with the bounty. My sister and her fiancé are expecting a wee little one in January, and the fruit symbolizes that beautiful new life. [Read more…]

Rhubarb Cornmeal Muffins | Simple Bites #recipe #rhubarb

Rhubarb Cornmeal Muffins and gaining perspective

I almost didn’t post this muffin recipe because they turned out a little flatter and uglier than I had hoped, certainly not ideal food styling material.

I was experimenting with a new recipe, inspired by my thriving rhubarb patch and spurred on by a craving for a snacking muffin with a tender crumb. Of course I was out of muffin tin liners, and so instead of pretty little round tops, the batter spread across the pan and fused together in the oven.

The taste and texture were there, though. Light and airy, spiced and moist, with tangy pockets of rhubarb, and crunchy addicting edges. What could be seen as a mishap could also be interpreted as a triumph.

Ah, these rhubarb muffins were a beautiful mess – and a perfect example of my life these days. With that analogy, I am bringing them to you, along with far more story than most of you probably care to read. If that’s the case, just skip to the recipe at the bottom of the post, because these muffins are worthy of your fresh rhubarb stash.

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Coconut Sugar Banana Layer Cake with Caramelized Coconut Sugar Frosting

Real Sweet: Banana Layer Cake with Caramelized Coconut Sugar Frosting

Well, I had all week to prepare for Clara’s birthday – only I don’t mean party prep. I’m referring to the allotted time required for me to accept that she is another whole year older. Already three.

Today she climbed on a stool with my old Canon Rebel around her neck and declared she wanted to take pictures of her salad. Later she perched on my lap and helped me make the selections for my organic seed order. She “works” on her toy computer and is an utter wiz in the kitchen already. Chip off the old block? It’s looking that way.

She’s incredibly decisive; knows precisely what she likes and does not like, and declared today’s recipe “The best cake I ever ate.” Oh Clara, you’re ever the charmer.

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