Berry Coffee Cake with Almond Topping

The weather outside is trouble. Hail and flooding rains attacking the garden, the same little plants that witnessed the heavy, steady, and unwelcome snow last week. Just a few days ago we enjoyed 70 degree radiant afternoons, tilling the ground and watching the pea plants grow and the lettuce beds populate. 

I’ve had enough. Winter, you had your chance, it’s spring! It’s May, and even the grass is tired of you. 

I’m ready for color explosions from poppies, columbines, calendula and chamomile flowers. I’m itching to plant tomatoes, peppers, beans and sunflowers; and for long evenings sitting on the patio with a chilled glass of anything, preferably a rosé but at this point i’ll take anything over a hot tea. 

To undermine the rude and constant interruption of spring, I made one of my favorite coffee cakes, fresh berries with almond topping. 

berryalmondcoffeecake

I first made this recipe a decade ago when I was working at the museum, it worked great for afternoon tea and coffee gatherings that didn’t require highly stylized desserts, but called for delicious and comforting baked goods. 

I found this recipe in the book from a once iconic bakeshop and cafe in New York City, Once Upon Tart. The shop still exist, but more as a staple of the SoHo neighborhood rather than the groundbreaking shop I, once, longed to visit. A clear representation of how quickly food businesses can go out of style and replaced by trendy, hipster new spots. 

This book remains one of my favorite cookbooks, even after a decade of paging through it and splattering vanilla extract and buttermilk on it. It’s full of tips and ideas on everything from simple salads and soups, to cozy baked goods, plus I like to read the headnotes that tell the story of each item. I like context when I read and cook a recipe, especially as I dive deeper into food as a cultural glue of people.  

The head note for this recipe says, “This is not your average coffee cake,” and I agree. I’m not a fan of coffee cakes because they tend to be too sweet, just cake with little fruit. This one is packed with berries on each bite, and it is the only coffee cake I ever make. I follow their advise in the fall and make it with apples, which are delicious with the almond topping and an added dash of cinnamon. 

coffeecakeberryalmond

I’m following the original recipe as spring calls for berries, well not in Colorado. Berries are available from California this time of the year, where crazy snow and hail are reserved for mountain tops. Here in Colorado, we don’t see strawberries until mid June, if the weather doesn’t destroy crops, but until then California fruit will have to do. 

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Time to Return

Never before did I experience the disorienting feeling of death in such a way as I have in the past couple of months. The confusing labyrinth I’ve fallen into pulled me away from life, my own life, including this blog and my love for writing about food. But it’s time to come back.

Many things have happened in the world in the past couple of months, besides my personal loss. A new president came in, women marched all over the world, and the nerves of many groups and countries are spilling over, especially as the dreaded changes start to happen. What does this has to do with food you might ask? Everything.

I’ve used this blog for the past couple of years with the hope to make food more approachable to anyone who reads it. I’ve spoken about my shortcomings with food, from the unknown cooking techniques required for artichoke decoding to overcoming my dislike for beets. I’ve approached meal planning and food waste in a attempt to understand them better and open the conversation.
Food is a place where we can unify, we all eat. Granted we all eat differently, something I value deeply, but i trust we all understand the importance of food, good, wholesome food. 

pickled Chioggia beets

The latest news of the new government possibly banning the USDA and EPA from communicating to the public about their research, research that affects our daily lives through food policy, laws and regulations. Or that the Keystone XL and Dakota pipeline projects were called back to reapply worry me. We could agree that it targets our food sovereignty. Especially when we add the conversations surrounding cuts to the school lunch programs that serve low-income children; dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which many states, like Oregon and Denver, have used as a way to recognize the silent problem of food insecurity; and many new moms use for breastfeeding support and lactation supplies. 

I’m not planning on turning this blog on a food policy site, I don’t have the knowledge Marion Nestle or Michael Pollan have on the topic, or the infrastructure and experience of the journalists at Civil Eats. What I do have is a mission to teach people about a simple turnip and how to cook it, or how a beet is not as scary as the millions of corn kernels grown on the U.S. farm belt used to feed cattle {which makes them sick because ruminants aren’t meant to eat grain but grass}, or to become sweeteners, fillers, and preservatives in junk food, amongst other deplorable uses, as you can hear in this podcast from The BBC Food Chain

beet greens and parsley

I’ll continue bringing stories of simple food, of the humble chard, or my beloved lentils. Because as the famous Leah Chase, Queen of Creole, says, “Food is so important, it makes people happy, and if you are happy you think better.” 

xo
~Paula

using carrot greens

 

Stewed Garbanzos and The Art of Meal Planning

With the summer abundance finished it’s time to shift gears and plan meals for cold, busy weeks. Summer is easier, with lots of fresh produce, garden offerings and the punishing heat that suggests lighter meals, lots of rosé and mint water, preferably in the backyard under tree shade. Fall and winter are a different game, I’m extra hungry as the weather cools and the days shorten, and fuller meals are in demand.

easygarbanzostew

Meal planning is key to my budget, and my sanity. It helps me prepare quick meals as my life runs faster than I can, and it keeps me from wasting food. In a country where 40-50% of the food produced goes to waste it’s difficult to take food waste serious, until it has a personal impact. After all, part of what I teach is meal planning and mindfulness around food, which makes me more aware of my own shortcomings.

mealplanningprep

Every Saturday, I fill bowls with beans, lentils and grains, of any color and shape, cover them with water and soak them overnight. On Sunday, I cook them all, as I mosey around sipping my morning coffee and reading The New York Times. At home, we are not vegetarians, but we use pulses, grains, and many vegetables to stretch animal proteins. Luckily, I’m a trained Colombian who grew up on beans and rice, so diversifying using lentils, beans and vegetables is familiar, if not comforting.

Once cooked, pulses and grains are an easy and reliable base for many meals through the week, with or without meat. Sometimes I’ll make bigger batches and freeze finished meals for the following week, if I know I’ll be extra busy. This weekend we worked on a batch of lentil-oat bars for Mr. Thomas, as he’s always bouncing around town and in need of nutritious snacks. We also worked on black bean and farro tacos for a lazy Sunday lunch; garbanzos to stew with tomatoes and fennel, to make hummus, and for falafel patties; and white beans for Cassoulet and Minestrone soupwhich I froze in two-portion containers, and are perfect for a snowy night, like tonight, when traffic is horrid and stressful, and I can relax knowing that a hearty dinner is ready to heat up.

stewedgarbanzoswithpesto

This weekly ritual acts as a way to inventory what is in our fridge, pantry and freezer, and to find recipes for produce, or other perishables. I’m mortified anytime a lonely turnip or carrot, forgotten underneath a pile of mushrooms or lettuce, gets soft and moldy and I have to dispose of the dead evidence. How much did I pay for that turnip?

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Lentil-Oat Bars and Holiday Lentil Gifts

***Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post!

For as long as I can remember, lentils have been a part of my life. My mother’s favorite meal is lentil soup, and if I had to choose a food to live on forever it would be lentils and rice, preferably basmati rice. 

Last month, I went to a conference in Austin, TX, where I learned about an organization promoting lentils, Canadian Lentils. I normally don’t write about specific products {except for books or interesting websites}, but this got my attention. They displayed lentils in burlap bags next to mason jars, in front of two tall shelves full of spices. From turmeric, ginger, garam masala, cumin, dried herbs, and different kinds of peppers, they encouraged visitors to take a jar fill it with lentils and add spices, either following one of their recipes or each person’s own mix. They elevated this humble pulse and made it the star of the conference, their booth was packed at all times with people interested on the endless possibilities provided by the spices. 

lentilsoupinajar

Lentils are miracle food. Let’s deconstruct this statement:

  • Lentils contain high amounts of protein. 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein
  • Lentils are high in heart-healthy fiber that also helps level blood sugar
  • Lentils provide high levels of iron 
  • Lentils, like other pulses or legumes, fix nitrogen into the soil where they are planted, creating a better growing environment for other plants, and reducing the carbon footprint of our food by using less chemical fertilizers per kilo-calorie
  • Lentils are delicious and versatile, and we can find recipes from all over the globe that feature them. They adapt to any spices and flavors we may dream of using. Italian lentil soup with tomatoes, thyme or oregano, for example, or Indian Dahl – orange split lentil – soup with curry, my mothers lentil soup with cumin, paprika and turmeric, or endless salad combinations, like Bulgur and black lentil salad with carrot green pesto.

homemadeholidaygifts

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the perfect apple-almond cake photo

There’s something about fall that screams baking! During the summer months I run away from the oven with terrorizing memories of the sticky and sweaty kitchen years I endured as a baker, but as soon as the backyard fills with leaves my little inner baker wakes up.

apple-almondcake

The falling leaves and crisps nights make it irresistible for a warm and sweet baked good right out of the oven, together with a cup of coffee and a good book. The heat of the oven helps me warm up the house in the absence of a fire-place, which would make this story seem more fairytale than it really is; and if I had a say, my fairytale would include year-round mild weather and an ocean view.

Fall’s slow death into winter also slows life, or at least it feels that way. I rediscover books with folded pages and pencil notes from before the rush of summer. A bit dusty, but not at all forgotten, they guarded their message and waited for me and our daily afternoon coffee, or evening glass of wine. 

One of those books I’m a few pages from finishing is Best Food Writing 2015, a yearly compilation of food-related essays, which has been done for more than a decade now, by Holly Hughes. I got hooked on these books a few years back when my interest shifted from cookbooks {yes, i still buy some of those} to food writing as narrative, a way to tell food stories. 

As I planned for this post, an essay from this book came to mind, “The Imperfect Family Kitchen,” by Debbie Koenig.

The essay begins with: “Food writers are lying to you,” yikes! and I agree, for the most part. She talks about the behind the scenes of recipes development {or recreation} and food photography, and the reality we don’t show on blog posts like this…Nope, I don’t have any pictures of dirty dishes for you, sorry.
We ‘lie’ because ugly pictures don’t sell, and pretty pictures DO, they attract people to follow and click on a link. 

When I first started this blog, my pictures were ugly, as not pretty or appealing, my goal was to share a recipe and a story, and didn’t understand that the photos made a difference. There were many reason for my bad photos {not to say they are absolutely great now, but better} besides my lack of skill.  My kitchen is dark, with orange-yellow maple cabinets and dark green-blue counter tops. My pictures reflected that, even worse when I’d turn the lights on to photograph dinner the yellow hue would translate onto the photo. 

honeycrispapples

Hours of reading about food photography and a full week of deconstructing and reconstructing my office made my photos crisper and cleaner. The office became a white box, I took the carpet off and installed plywood planks on the floor, and painted walls, floor and ceiling a crisp white, to bounce the window light and not alter the color of the food. 

My pictures don’t reflect the dated refrigerator, the broken-down microwave, or the prop I use to keep the oven door close because the hinges don’t work. They show an “edited” idea of how cooking really happens here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kitchen and many great meals successfully come out of it, including this apple cake, but how many people really want to see a load of bad pictures full of reality? 

germanapplealmondcake

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Grilled Peach and Corn Salsa, and My New Found Obsession with Preserving

I mentioned in the past that preserving wasn’t in my DNA, well neither was English and here we are.

This season I have preserved more than the 15 years i have lived in the U.S. combined. From jams, to fruit butters, sauces, salsas, chutneys, to dried herbs and soaps. Someone told me a few years back, “You don’t have the preserving bug, yet,” to which I replied “Not sure I’ll ever get it.” I know, what a joke.

lavenderhoneypeaches

The more I dig into the pros and cons of eating seasonally, the more I learn to appreciate the bounty of fresh, Colorado grown products in the summer and fall, and align myself with the process of preparing for winter, when our diet consists mostly of root vegetables, grains, pulses, hearty greens and a few sustainably raised meats.
Preserving the summer and fall harvest allows me to go back in time by taking little capsules of flavor from my freezer or canning cellar to inject life to any meal. Let’s face it, after 3 months of parsnips and rutabagas I wish to break loose and buy an out-of-season zucchini {most likely from Mexico}, instead I add pesto to any dish from soups to pastas to beans or lentils; or chutney to meats or roasted vegetables.

peachcornsalsa

The bug hasn’t consumed me fully, I still can’t find myself canning soups and anything that requires a pressure-canning technique; even thought I’m comfortable using a pressure cooker, I’m not sure I trust a load of cans inside of it. It troubles me. Every time I consider the idea, the memories of a big pressure cooker exploding at my mother’s restaurant when I was in my early teens come rushing, and I walk away. For now, I’ll stick to water baths.

how to dry rosemary

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Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Even with its unbearable heat waves, summer is a luxurious time of year. I wish I could grab it by its tail, harness it and slow it down. I love the flowers in every yard, walkway and park. The plants bearing fruits and vegetables, and the farmers bringing their best to the market.

With July gone, we are down to August and September, and then is winter. Unless we get a long enough fall to drown our sorrows before the snow stars to pile. I shouldn’t be thinking about winter and should just enjoy the present, the hot weather, and the abundance from the land.

My new weekly ritual includes a trip to the Union Station Farmers Market, which is proving educational. We’ve had markets in Denver on previous years, but none that accumulated the quantity and quality of locally grown produce that this, new to the city, market is bringing.

For years, I envied the Boulder and Longmont markets, and traveled at last once a month during the summer to indulge on buying produce grown just a few miles away; now they travel every Saturday to bring their produce to us in Denver.

union station farmers market denver

Many meals and cooking ideas spring every week based on what’s available, a concept I didn’t follow particularly close before I challenged myself to cook the majority of our meals using only seasonal produce. By seasonal, I mean whatever is in season around me, or at least in the United States especially during the winter months, not including Hawaii, I haven’t bought a pineapple in years, and not including snow and sticks from our Colorado winter harvest.

Some meals are simple variations using, for example, different types of cucumbers {which just this year, after 15 years in the U.S. and 13 of those in the kitchen I found they are nicknamed “cukes”} like lemon cucumbers in a cucumber-tomato salad dressed with carrot greens pesto.

lemon cucumbers

Other meals, like this Bulgur and Lentil Salad, are born out of the necessity for an easy to take lunch that’s nutritious and simple to make, all while providing a punch of flavor to keep me from stopping at the burrito place nearby for a second snack. Continue reading Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Pig Talk

The 289 lb pig carcass laid on the chef’s counter, cut in half from torso to tail, bagged, and headless. The head, I heard, sat in the walking refrigerator outside the restaurant, where the delivery person from the farm left it a few minutes before I arrived.

Part of the curriculum of the class I taught during spring semester included meats and fish, and the art of butchering, a knowledge not associated with those of us who spend our time with flour and sugar, and building cakes and tarts, and I had a few weeks to learn a lifetime of skills.

Pig trotters

For weeks, I had recurring nightmares of butchering the animals into inadequate and unrecognizable pieces, or having the slippery fish coming back to life to chew my fingers off as I tried to skin it in a classroom full of students.

At that point my choices were:

  • Call in sick the day before each protein class and risk loosing my job,
  • Take sleeping pills so at least the nightmares would go away, even if my skills didn’t improve,
  • Spend hundreds of dollars buying entire hogs and countless fish, plus the refrigeration system to store them
  • Or, Find experts who could instruct me in the art of butchering

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Cali, Colombia: Visiting My Home City

As an expat living in the states and married to a non-Colombian, I see Cali with the familiarity and critical eye of an estranged daughter.
Cali is growing and changing, the expanding infrastructure, the new public transit system and the desire for progress that fuels the spirit of a city and its people ready to shed their past and proudly wear a new face. It has been an uphill battle with a reputation gained during decades of violence that froze the city, its development and the dream of many, finally thawing out, and a with a younger generation ready to showcase Cali’s potential.

andes mountains cali colombia

Cali’s constant festive atmosphere with its feathery palm trees, fruit stands on every corner, the hot-from-the-oven pandebonos and the backdrop of the Andean mountains embodies the passionate Caleños. You can start with two days in Cali, exploring the various small neighborhoods near the city center where some of the cultural sites have stood for decades like Museo Arqueológico La Merced, Teatro Municipal and Iglesia La Ermita; and where new developments, like the Ermita Boulevard, are opening the door for artists, chefs and business owners to set up shop and repaint the façade of the old Cali.

Stay and Explore

san antonio neighborhood cali colombia

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Whole Grain Banana-Chocolate Bundt cakes

Once in a while the grocery store where I shop has ‘brownish’ bananas on sale, as it happened a couple of weeks ago, so I buy enough to make a few loaves of banana bread.

The desperate look of the in-need-of-a-home bananas brakes me every time and I end up sheltering more than enough to make the usual banana bread, plus some other quick bread variation that I could serve for afternoon tea or even dinner; banana-chocolate bread baked in mini bundt pans fools anyone into thinking is dessert.

chocolatebananabread

The whole wheat and rye flours hide behind the dark {extra-brut} cocoa powder and the chunks of 68% chocolate giving it a sense of indulgence, plus lowering the sugar allows the chocolate flavor to shine and support the bananas as the first act.

chocolatebananaminibunts

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