Vanilla Rhubarb Cake

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I gravitate towards tart flavors. I prefer my gin and tonic to contain an entire lime, occasionally leaving a tiny wedge for Brandon. To trick myself into drinking more water, I squeeze in a whole lemon’s juices to make it more interesting. Those biting, wince inducing flavors are some of my favorites. Not sure why. It could speak to my personality, but I doubt it.

 

A week or so ago, as we wandered the Broadway Farmer’s Market, I was excited to find out what was in season. I imagined the market to be overflowing in magnificent produce since it has felt like spring here for weeks. Alas, I was disappointed. There wasn’t much variety, though there was an over abundance of rhubarb and leeks. I grabbed a few of the deep pink stalks, tinged with green.  Good thing I had the foresight to gather rhubarb inspired recipes just a few days before. (See Pinterest board)

 

Since I’m a timid and lazy baker, I chose the simplest recipe. Pastry Affair’s  Rhubarb Vanilla Pound Cake  was just the ticket. Easy, with little mess and my kitchen happened to have all the necessary ingredients. I wanted to use my precious, snappy rhubarb wisely, and not allow it to get too sweet or boring. This cake provided a quiet backdrop to enhance the tangy rhubarb flavor. Topped with minted strawberries, this cake was a perfect spring dessert. Be sure to accompany with a cup of excellent coffee to get the full effect.

 

 Vanilla Rhubarb Cake

From Pastry Affair

 

Preheat the  oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan. Or if you don’t have one (like me) you can use a wider cake pan, and you’ll just get a thinner slice of cake. Wash and cut up a 2-4 stalks of rhubarb into about 1/2- inch pieces. Mix with about 1/4 cup of sugar and cook in a small pot or frying pan until it just gets soft, should be just 5-7 minutes.

Mix 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar until throughly mixed and light and fluffy. Add in one egg at a time , for a total of 3 eggs, and be sure to mix it in well. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste if you have that on hand. Add 1/3 cup of sour cream and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and mix well. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour until just mixed. Lightly stir in the rhubarb and its juices. Pour the batter into the pan, top with a sprinkle of sugar and bake for about 45-50 minutes.

 Enjoy warm from the oven or at room temperature.

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Feta Salsa

Herbs

 

There is nothing like fresh, fragrant herbs to invigorate the senses. Their scent requires a closed eyed, deep inhale which invokes a sort of calm, even for just a moment. I have a tendency to maniacally thrust a handful of fresh basil under Brandon’s nose and demand he tell me anything that smells better. He usually sniffs obediently and obliges, with some deserved eye rolling.

Each herb has a distinct personality, and I enjoy finding ways to use them to enliven otherwise boring, normal meals. Whether it’s the fresh crunch of parsley, the posh spiciness of tarragon or a crisp mint sprig, all can bring your meal to the next level. To an 11. I’m also a sucker for pairing herbs and fruit, like those scrumptious French Toasts  from last summer with strawberries and basil or rhubarb and mint. Just gives it that extra flavor layer for punch.

 

Sliced-scallions

 

A few years ago, Chicago had it’s first Diner en Blanc and I scooped up two tickets just as they went on sale. Basically 1000 people dress up all in white, prepare a 3 course picnic dinner and are told where to meet the day of the event to sit down for a sort of gastronomic flash mob. You are supposed to bring your own small table and chairs , that must be white of course. Which meant we were frantically gluing white fabric on our black table and chairs that afternoon, because we are classy like that. Though our accessories weren’t elegant, I was determined that our food should be. But it also had to be transportable. We made a funky pasta dish for our main course and I wanted some sort of simple yet scrumptious spread with a crusty baguette for our appetizer. Smitten Kitchen’s Feta Salsa was just the ticket.

 

Diner-en-blanc

 

The Diner en Blanc was enormous fun. People, clad in white from all over the city, assembled under the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza and set up their meals for two. Some tables were quite plain while some had elaborate place settings with chandeliers and candlesticks. But I was quite happy with our table with a white sheet tablecloth and felt covered seats since we had this feta salsa. An entire bowl of this stuff was not nearly enough for the two of us. We devoured it, moaning our appreciations. Then, after the dinner I promptly forgot all about it.

 

feta-salsa

 

It popped into my head the other day when I was at a loss for what to make for dinner. I wanted something simple yet flavorful that would leave me enough for lunch the next day. Greedily snatching up 8 different kinds of herbs, I wracked my brain for something to make that would use as many as possible. Somehow the dormant memory of creamy, spicy Mediterranean tasting goodness worked it’s way to the front of my mind and I was off to find the creamiest feta in all the grocery store.

 

Chickpeas

 

 

To give this meal some crunch, I fried some za’tar spiced chickpeas while mixing up my feta salsa. Add them all to a warmed pita with some arugula and cucumber and that is dinner my friends! I do believe the flavors highlighted and melded and all the other requisite actions we require of food to give our taste buds pleasure. For my #notsaddesklunch the next day, I brought along an avocado to spread in the sandwich and ate the whole thing again.

 

Sandwich

 

 

 Feta Salsa

 

Combine a healthy amount of creamy feta with about 2-3 tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley and dill and 1-2 tablespoons of chopped mint and tarragon. Chop a couple scallions and throw those in. Taste as you go. You can always add more herbs so start with less. Rough chop anywhere between 1/4 – 1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes (depending on your preference) and add to mixture. I splurged a bit and got some packed in olive oil so they wouldn’t be dry.  Toss in some capers in. I’m not a fan of olives, but if you are, by all means use some kalamatas here. Add sea salt and cracked black pepper and a couple tablespoons of nice olive oil. Stir it up and taste. I chopped up 2 garlic cloves and just toasted them to add in as an experiment. You may want to drizzle some of the sun-dried tomato oil into the mixture as well. This is a very malleable concoction so make it your own!

 

Fried Za’atar Chickpeas

 

Heat up some oil (vegetable, grapeseed, olive etc) in a saute pan. Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas. Once the oil is hot, throw in the chickpeas and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of za’atar and some salt and pepper. Fry for about 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often. Keep an eye on them. You want them crispy and browned, but not burned. Take off heat to cool for a couple minutes, then consume!

Mama Foodie Visits

 

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I’m not the most friendly of people and daily need time where I interact solely with a book. Hi, my name is Abby and I’m an introvert.

 

However, since my family and friends are spread literally across the world, I become more amicable when we are given the chance to spend a short, concentrated dose of time together. I especially savor when family and friends visit me and I get to show off all my favorite spots. This is probably selfish, since I’m basically boasting about my discovering skills and impeccable taste. But they usually get some pretty amazing meals and since I’m quite witty and entertaining , it all works out.

A few weeks ago, Mama Foodie came visiting for a fleeting 48 hours, so we really had to make our dining choices count. Does any one else plan out their trips entirely around consuming food and drink? Well, we Cerquitellas do. It is all I’ve known, which is probably why I’m so confused when visiting other people and they have no idea where they will eat tomorrow’s mid-afternoon snack. You can’t leave these things to chance people!

 

Mom-at-Bar-Sajor

 

The Happy Food Dance Food Tour commenced after work on a Tuesday where we walked around a bit so she could feel what weather other than 80 degrees and sunny feels like. (My parents live in Dallas) Once I felt she was adequately chilled, we stopped by our neighborhood cocktail lounge’s happy hour. At Sun Liquor Lounge  Cale Green (real name, see below) whipped us up a couple of his delightful cocktails. A Last Word for me, a Green Point for Brandon and a Mojito for Mom.  We then strolled to my favorite Malaysian eatery, that window of enticing, mouthwatering aroma, Kedai Makan. (I’ve waxed poetic about it previously)  Bringing our roti and nasi goreng home, we chatted as she proceeded to surreptitiously peek into every cupboard and closet in my 500 square foot apartment. Mothers are curious creatures.

 

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The next day we met around noon to wander about Pike Place Market, where she took pictures of everything in sight and sighed over the vast edible displays. We shared some fish and chips inside the market along with a cold salmon sandwich with capers and lemon aioli. Absolutely scrumptious. I plan to pay a visit to that sandwich again in the near future. We chose a few cookies from a bakery and brought them into Seattle Coffee Works, where we wedged ourselves in the only two open seats and tried to hide the obvious wafts of powdered sugar from our contraband chocolate crinkles. We then wandered down to Pioneer Square, stopping at Watson Kennedy where we lusted after every knick knack in sight.

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After our chocolate crinkles and coffee, we were obviously in need of a snack. We tried some mojito gelato from Cafe Umbria which was incredibly fresh and vibrant. Sitting outside and gabbing, she noticed a gorgeous storefront across the way and went to investigate. Practically running back with a “borrowed” menu, she declared it was now time for wine and cheese. Turned out this place was Bar Sajor, which I’ve read much about and been dying to try.

Bar-Sajor

They were getting ready for dinner service, so I felt as if we were interrupting and didn’t belong. Still, we shared a glass of cava, with some bread, butter and a few local cheeses. Mama Foodie took pictures of everything in sight while I tried to pretend I didn’t know her.

Wine-and-cheese

 

I’m in love the look, and taste,  of this restaurant group since going to Sitka and Spruce for my birthday dinner. The London Plane is high on my list of places to spend an afternoon and I’m looking forward to returning to splurge for dinner at Bar Sajor. After this 3rd afternoon snack, we dodged raindrops to the bus and went home. We barely had time to drop off her purchases when it was time to leave for dinner. We took the scenic route to give ourselves time to digest before stopped at essex for a drink and appetizers while we waited for a table at Delancey next door.

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At essex we shared some small plates and then shared two pizzas next door, which were of course, delectable. Roasted broccoli on the white pizza was exceptional. Mama Foodie was the first to tell my older sister and I about Molly Wizenberg’s book and blog, so it was only fitting that we took her to Delancey to have some of my absolute favorite pizza. She was a fan to say the least.

 

Arabica-breakfast

 

Before her flight left the next morning, we had an early brunch at Arabica Lounge.  Their window display is always overflowing with decadent desserts, crusty croissants and meringues as large as your head. Again, I pretended to be absorbed in the menu while she took pictures of every inch of the cafe. We each gobbled up a croissant and shared a perfect fig and goat cheese omelette. She filled a bag with treats for later and also stopped by Crumble and Flake to add more to her collection. I wonder if my Dad and brother got to see any of these treats by the time she got home…

 

Some people are terrified of turning into their parents. And though we are quite different, food is where my mother and I are all too similar. My husband was amazed when he heard my mother after dinner the first night:

“I need a treat. I just need a tiny square of chocolate! Just one. I don’t need a whole bar! Don’t you have a small square of chocolate around!?” she whined as she practically thrashed around on the couch and looked about desperately.

“Word for word, this is exactly what I hear from Abby every night.” he said in a scared voice.

 

Why, Hello Robin

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Those look like some damn fine cookies right? They were. Don’t you worry about that.

Seattle is one of a few lucky cities to be a part of How About We (Brandon keeps calling it  “Why Don’t We Just Do That”).

How About We is a curator of dates for couples. I think they also have a singles dating site as well. I originally bought a 3 month membership for my brother and sister in law  as a Christmas present, and it turned out that it also signed Brandon and I up as members. Which is fine by me since that means we get a pretty fun free date once a month and discounts on the member dates, for like $10 a month.

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You can get $50 off for your first date, which we cleverly used at Olivar. This is where  I bravely tried mussels for the first time and while I loved the garlic butter sauce, someone please tell me who decided mussels were edible? Who first found the shell, opened it and thought “Yum! We should eat this! “?  I just don’t get it.

We used our monthly free date to have a Cookie Tasting at Hello Robin, since what is a date without food? Not a real date. Conveniently (or suspiciously) we arrived just as a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies were pulled out of the oven. The smells that wafted throughout this charming shop enveloped us as we were invited to take a seat and offered coffee or tea.

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For our tasting we could choose 12 cookies from their selection of about ten or eleven different flavors. They had some staples like molasses and birthday cake and a few wildcards like a habañero orange chocolate chip and a crazy caramel pretzel one. I was partial to the wacky flavors myself.  I had room for 2, and we had to take the rest home with us for another day’s dessert.

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Next door is a fun little general store, Cone & Steiner,  which you can peek into from Hello Robin. I bet their customers stand by the window waving hello to Robin all the time.