Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Life Gives You Plums

I was not expecting such a bounty. We have two small plum trees in our garden, planted by our landlord; one was planted about four years ago, the other, just two. Though young, both were covered with small plums this summer. We had been gathering small bowls full as they ripened--just enough to snack on, really--but, the other day I noticed that most of the plums were ripe so asked Artist Son to take out a bowl and pick the rest of the tree. An hour later, helped by a ladder and Tayta, he delivered four large bowls of plums to my kitchen table.

I had never done anything with sweet plums but eat them fresh--that seemed the best use of them and I'd never before had very many at a time. It was Tayta who encouraged me that we could "do something" with them. "Plum cobbler and jam!" she suggested. She did a little searching online and once I realized we wouldn't need to peel them I was ready to begin processing plums--really, very easy. One of the first things we admired was their lovely colors. You don't notice those so much when you are biting into them rather than cutting them.

Our small plum halves and thirds seemed just the right size to use in a the Strawberry Summer Cake recipe below, so we did. I think we like the plum version best--just the perfect tartness. We've made (and eaten) two of these so far.

Plum Summer Cake

And, who knew that plum jam was so delicious?! We found out. PBJs are in renewed demand at our house and we've already eaten nearly two pints of the 20 I canned this week. (I used Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes. Cook jam recipes are included in the box.)

Plum Cobbler

Finally, we made a giant plum cobbler to enjoy with company on Tuesday, and I'll cobble the rest of the harvest tomorrow. This was our first ever plum cobbler and it was delicious! In the picture it looks similar to the cake, but there is a lot more syrupy fruit at the bottom. All the years I've lived in Jordan, the dessert I've most missed is blackberry cobbler. Plum cobbler is a very good and even close substitute. I only wish I had discovered it 20 years ago. This cobbler served 12.

Plum Cobbler for Company

10 cups fresh plums, pitted and sliced
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the prepared plums and mix gently. Place the fruit mixture in a large baking dish--I used a deep 9 inch X 13 inch pan.

1/2 cup sugar
3 cups flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs

Combine sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk and egg until just moistened. Drop the batter by spoonfuls on the plums. Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees F, making sure the batter, especially in the middle, is done. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Delicious! But then I'm very partial to baked fruit desserts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Brotherhood

One of the things I so appreciate about Dear Husband is the way he has faithfully discipled our sons into a brotherhood. Yes, he is still the father and they, the sons, but they are also, all three, friends and brothers in Christ. It brings me great joy to see how they enjoy each other in a new and deeper way as Active Son and Artist Son mature, and now, as Active Son has been away at college and returned home for the first time.

Dear Husband has taught his sons to love of God and his Word, and to that end they faithfully meet together for study and prayer each week. And, as guys, they like to DO things together--lots of sweaty, dirty laundry has been a blessed part of our family's heritage. Last week they hiked together through Wadi Hasa, along the Zered Brook, the biblical border between Moab and Edom. Dear Husband considers it the most beautiful river gorge in Jordan. Active Son has hiked it twice before with Scouts, but this was Artist Son's maiden trip.

The Brotherhood in Wadi Hasa

Today, Active Son and Artist Son finish up a week of coaching 10-13 year old kids at baseball camp; I've loved hearing their after-hours discussions of the kids and how they can help them improve their skills. This afternoon, as they once again filled their water bottles and headed out the kitchen door together to summer softball practice, I realized what a defining scene this has been in life of the Brotherhood. Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness to these men.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Summer Cake

Deb Perlman of Smitten Kitchen hopes that her Strawberry Summer Cake will be my summer cake. I say she gets her wish; this cake was so simple and so delicious.

Strawberry Summer Cake
Adapted, only slightly, from Martha Stewart

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups flour -OR- 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup barley flour, which Deb recommends for it's "silkiness" and "subtle creamy, nuttiness" I had some barley on hand, which I ground in my neglected wheat grinder so I happily followed Deb's recommendation. Superb!
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter deep dish pie pan or a 9 inch (smallest of my set of three) spring-form pan.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add flour mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer, overlapping them slightly if necessary. Sprinkle an additional 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 60 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with lightly sweetened, lightly whipped cream.

{Edit} We've ended up baking our cakes for over 60 minutes--one, more like 90.

This cake was the perfect accompaniment to a morning coffee visit in the garden with a dear friend--the rest of the cake was polished off by my family (before noon) who requested I make another one. I'm thinking to try it with peaches...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tour for Peace Begins

We were glad to welcome Lauren's violinist friend, Holly, to our home this week as they prepare to begin their musical Tour for Peace. Micha, the videographer, arrives tonight.

Besides the requisite practicing, Lauren and Holly have spent many hours this weeks in "arts administration", writing emails and making phone calls to finalize their arrangements in the West Bank. They plan to leave for Nablus on Monday but before they leave they will begin their tour by sharing their music and interacting with Jordanian students participating in a cultural exchange program sponsored by East West Initiatives.

Holly, Lauren, and Micha are blogging at Tour for Peace.