plums, effort and giving thanks

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. Although I do have pumpkin roasting in my oven, I want to talk about plums. The first of the pumpkins may be showing off at markets these days, but I'm still trying to get my fill of the last of the plums. 

I made a simple plum cake last week and I hope to make it again this week. It takes only a couple of minutes to mix everything together and with Italian prune plums and olive oil instead of butter, it is incredibly moist, but still with a little bit of crunch. It is the type of cake that you are tempted to eat for breakfast and could easily commit to as your number one afternoon pick-me-up.

I listened to the instructions and managed to resist cutting into it until the day after I had baked it. Because I miraculously didn't sneak a slice the day of, I cannot say how the day after compares. However, I can say that the cake lived up to all of its praise on Lottie and Doof, Smitten Kitchen and Bon Appetempt.  

What I like most about this recipe is that it could not be easier. It takes very little effort, labour and time, yet what it yields is excellent. It is the type of cake that you think about when you are waiting for the bus and thinking about what to eat when you get home. I also like its history: the New York Times published this recipe every September from 1982 to 1989! I like that this encourage repetition, the establishment of a ritual and I will do my best to bake this cake every year when summer turns to fall. 

The recipe calls for a spring form pan which, alas, I do not have. I used a regular cake pan and it worked out fine. Depending on the size of the plums, you might need more or less. The recipe calls for 12, but mine were on the smaller side so I ended up using 14. Also, if your plums are very ripe and already quite sweet, cut back on the amount of sugar. 

On a different note, if you haven't already I highly recommend reading this article about a woman who decides to stop cooking and how cooking for others can be selfish. Cooking can be a chore, a resented obligation, a means of getting people to like you (which connects thematically to the excellent article "Learning to Love Criticism") and, for some like myself, a source of pleasure. Just because I enthusiastically derive joy from the act of cooking, doesn't make cooking any less complicated for me. This is because I'm acutely aware of the issues that it ties into and how it connects to politics, gender and society. That said, I'm thankful that I am in the position to enjoy cooking even though I am in no way obligated to.

So, if you are like me and enjoy the heat of the kitchen, make this plum torte and dig into these two articles. And if you use your oven to store books and sweaters, go buy yourself a piece of cake to keep you company while reading. 

Plum Torte

adapted from the New York Times

serves 8


125 grams (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 grams baking powder
large pinch of salt
200 grams (1 cup) unrefined sugar + 1 tbsp for sprinkling
67 grams (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) virgin olive oil + a knob more to grease the pan
2 organic eggs
 12-14 small Italian prune plums, pitted and cut in half
1 tsp cinnamon 
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 F / 190 C / gas mark 4.

Grease a cake pan with olive oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, stir together the sugar and olive oil and then add the eggs, one egg at a time. Add the flour mixture to the olive oil and sugar mixture and stir until combined.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and give the pan a little shake, side to side, to make sure the batter is evenly distrubuted. Arrange the plums on top of the batter, with the skin side facing down. Sprinkle with cinnamon, 1 tbsp of sugar and lemon juice.

Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the batter (and not a plum!) come out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving. 



the bread exchange

First in Sweden, then the rest of Europe and, as of today, North America - The Bread Exchange has been released! 

Malin bakes bread and travels the world trading her sourdough for anything other than money. By doing so, she collects stories and her first book puts that collection on display. From growing a sourdough starter in the Sinai desert to borrowing an oven from a star chef in New York and from the rituals of community baking in Afghanistan to winter soups in Poland, Malin's book is a collection of recipes and stories that are equally delicious.

I leave the bread baking up to Malin but to those curious about baking with sourdough, the book includes her signature recipe, plus some adaptations including a loaf with goji berries and rosemary. 
The subsequent chapters feature recipes from her trades and travels and I had the absolute honour of contributing two recipes for winter jams (not with plum, but one is with blood orange and the other pear), which you can read a bit more about here

In addition to the usual suspects and (hopefully) your local bookstore, you can also order the book on her website.

Good bread and good stories seem like the right essentials to prioritize and the Bread Exchange celebrates both. 


not quite ready: grilled zucchini and halloumi salad

I was at the post office the other day to mail some letters when the women at the desk picked up one of my envelopes and asked "Wohin?" To which country she wanted to know and I realized that I had forgotten to write Canada. I suppose that it hadn't quite hit me that I had left, that I was somewhere else again.

Leaving gets harder as I get older. The hugs that I give my grandparents have gotten longer. I fall in love all over again with friends that I see way too seldom, making time apart feel slower. I was in Canada for five weeks and yet it wasn't enough. I wasn't quite ready to leave and I think this is exactly why it still feels so much like home. 

So here I am, slowly catching up with where I am and what time of year it is.

It turns out that it is the time of year that isn't quite ready to bid farewell to one season as it turns into the next. Between mornings of grey and chilly evenings, Munich has had a couple of afternoons that easily make you forget that it is fall and no longer summer. 

Before I went to Canada I made this salad on my balcony. It is a warm salad, one that is a meal in itself. I grilled slices of yellow zucchini and chunks of salty halloumi cheese. I added some chickpeas and tossed everything with fresh mint, zesty za'atar and enough olive oil and lemon juice to make a dressing. On the scale of hearty and fresh, the salad balances between the two. The chickpeas and halloumi make it into a meal and yet the za'atar and mint make it taste light. It is exactly what I want to eat when the seasons and I are both making up our minds about where we are and what time of year it is.

If you've already put away your grill, just roast the zucchini in the oven and fry the halloumi in a pan.  

Grilled Zucchini and Halloumi Salad
inspired by Chatelaine
serves 2
1 large zucchini (I used a yellow one)
1 pack (150g) halloumi
1/4 cup loosely packed mint, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas
2 tbsp za'atar
sea salt
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
a neutral oil for grilling, such as grapeseed

Preheat barbecue to medium. While the grill heats up, cut the zucchini into medium-thick slices, place in a bowl and toss with some oil and coarse salt to prepare them for the grill. Cut the halloumi into chunks and also toss it with some oil (skip the salt as halloumi is already quite salty).

Place the zucchini and halloumi on the grill, or one first and then the other depending on the size, and barbecue until the zucchini is tender and the halloumi has grill marks, about 3 minutes per side for the zucchini and 3 minutes per side for the halloumi.

In a bowl, toss together the zucchini, and halloumi with the chickpeas, mint, za'atar, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste. Serve either warm or at room temperature.



Chickpea Quarterly: the rock we eat

Oktoberfest keeps the city of Munich so busy that it is easy to forget that the season is changing, that summer has turned to fall.
However, the folks at Chickpea Quarterly haven't forgotten and their fall issue is now out and happens to be their biggest issue yet. Between stories about shrubs, cold-weather spices, hunting for mushrooms, and cooking over campfires (written by my lovely friend Shirin), there is a tale from when I was in South Korea last August and harvested enough sea salt to see me through both fall and winter and then some.
As always, the issue is available digitally and in print.  
Today the journal's founder Cara Livermore chatted with Michael Harlan Turkell on the Food Seen about the creativity of veganism, the many hats that she wears in putting together this journal, and sushi so inventive that I'm tempted to hop on a plane to New York City (that's right, New York and not Tokyo). Chickpea is a rad publication that is about so much more than just one way of eating and I'm happy to be a part of it.  


postcards from toronto II

Tomorrow I fly back to Munich with a suitcase generously packed with maple syrup and Canadian-made mustard. Leaving Canada is bittersweet. Time feels different when you are back at home. You have years and years of memories that animate the streets you walk on and the cafes you frequent. With so much history in a city, the past feels closer to the present. It has a bigger influence, a stronger presence. And that is what it means to be rooted somewhere.

I was hoping to write more while in Canada. I wanted to tell tales of ferries and islands, oysters and ale, barbecues and wild blackberries. I wanted to narrate them in the present tense, but instead I'll have to use the past. 

Thank you Toronto for always feeling like home, no matter how far away I've gone or how long I've been away.


women in clothes

I haven't been able to talk about Canada yet as my mouth has been full with Ontario corn and peaches and my hands have been busy hugging people I love (and scratching mosquito bites). Let's just say that there is no place like home.
Last Thursday marked the release date of Women in Clothes. A compilation of interviews, conversations, diary-like texts, essays, illustrations and photographs, this book skips the hackneyed question of what to wear and instead asks why do we dress the way we do. It is about storytelling and personal style. It is about what we inherit from our families and from our cultures. It is about what we reject and rebel against. It is about the rituals of dressing and their pleasures or frustrations.
Edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, the book collects thoughts on dressing from 639 women. It all started with a survey (which you can fill out online) and both the book and the website have developed into a fascinating project about and an archive of how women dress. You'll find some thoughts from me both in print and online.
To celebrate there is a series of talks and clothing swaps taking place across Canada and the United States the next couple of months, including one in Toronto on the 18th of September. Hope to see you there!


rome + nectarines in white wine

August has been a month of short plane rides and long bus rides and on Friday there will be a very long plane ride, as I'm heading home to Canada for the first time in two years.

Where we are from seems to have more weight from where we are. "Where are you from?" is a question that we all hear more often than "Where do you live?". Toronto is where I was born and although I lived in another city longer, it is the city where I grew the most. It is my home, and yet it isn't anymore. I've lived in Europe for seven years now and when I come home from work or a vacation, home is Munich. How does Munich feel that I'm from Toronto and how does Toronto feel that I left it for Munich? And how do both cities feel about all the cities that came in between? I guess when it comes to cities, I'm believe in polyamory. 

Whenever I go home to Toronto, a couple of butterflies come with me. Will I still recognize the city? Will it still recognize me? So far, we both always have and I'm excited to be writing from Canadian soil for the next month. But before you hear from me on the other side of the pond, let's talk about Rome. 

One city that is always easy to recognize is Rome. Rome is a city that knows who it is. It doesn't flirt with passing trends - like food trucks - but it is able to experiment and evolve without compromising its character.

The first weekend of August I spent in Rome and a weekend spent in Rome is a weekend spent eating. I spent three days staying cool in the Roman heat by eating gelato and granita a caffe con panna. I ate the latter at both Cremeria Monteforte and Tazza d'Oro and although the latter had the better granita the former had the dreamiest cream. I ate caramel-meringue gelato at Il Gelato di San Crispino, a peachy ice pop at Grom and (once again) the life-changing riso alla canella gelato at Bar Pica

But then one night when dessert came along I skipped on more gelato, and ordered peaches in white wine instead. It was at Felice a Testaccio, a restaurant that a friend was generous enough to share with me. I sometimes find myself thinking about their legendary tonarelli cacio pepe and you know what they say about when in Rome.

If you're in a restaurant this good, not ordering dessert is certainly a wasted opportunity, but after the cacio pepe, a platter of fried shrimp and calamari, bitter chicory and grilled vegetables, I wasn't sure if I could do it. However, the daily menu included peaches in white. The only thing better than a refreshing and fruity dessert after a filling meal, is one that essentially comes with another glass of wine. 

Back in Munich, I was inspired to bathe stone fruit in white wine and went for nectarines instead of peaches. It was just as good. This summer dessert is as simple as they come and, to repeat a reoccurring theme on this blog, barely qualifies as a recipe. Toss slices of ripe nectarines (or peaches) with sugar, add white wine, leave to chill in the fridge, serve. 

I used a darker, unrefined sugar and it didn't muddle the colour of the nectarines at all. Feel free to use whatever sugar you have on hand or prefer. For the wine, I used muscadet, a wine that is easy on the wallet and sweet in the mouth. Whatever white you use, make sure you want to drink it as that is exactly what you'll do after spooning out and eating the sweet, tender nectarines. 

Nectarines in White Wine

serves 2


2 ripe nectarines
1 tbsp sugar
150 ml white wine 

Wash and dry the nectarines. Cut them in halves, pitting them, and then slice each half into several pieces. Place in a small bowl, add sugar and toss them well. Add the white wine, give everything a good stir, and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

When ready to serve, divide the nectarines and their wine between two glasses and serve cold, straight out of the fridge.


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