Market Monday: Up on Blueberry Hill

blueberry pickingThe blueberries were ripe for picking at Conn’s Blueberry Farm, which opened on Friday, in North East. Saturday dawned overcast, perfect for picking, and I headed out at 8 a.m. in 70-degree weather for the 30 minute drive.

You can choose from 3- or 5-quart buckets ($3 a quart), which you then tie around your waist or hang around your neck (waist is easier for me) to pick. About 10 other families were already in field, which opened at 8 a.m.

Overheard while picking:

Small child 1: Mom!!! M, put a blueberry up my butt!

Small child 2: Mom!!! M hit me with the bucket!

M: Mom!!! Look at all the green ones I picked!

Needless to say, it was a family affair out there.

Mom promised a blueberry buckle if everyone would just behave (and stop picking the green ones).

blueberry tree

In a half hour, I had 8 quarts – more than enough to make my mother’s birthday blueberry pie. I paid, put them in my own container for transport home. Alas, NPR had nothing to soothe me on such a delightful morning what with all the shootings and bombings and crazy people driving trucks into crowds in Nice on Bastille Day, which is my nephew’s birthday. This is all just terrible, but I would prefer to think of the lovely market I visited in Nice and had a coffee in the square after shopping. This begs the question of whether you take your children overseas to see these beautiful spots or do you let the terror win.

This was not a question I can answer right now. If it was just me – I am OK to go. I am 53 years old and can make that decision for myself. But there was a 9-year-old American boy who was killed, along with his father, in the Nice attack. And that is not OK.

And all of this has nothing to do with blueberries, but that is what happens when you spend 30 minutes driving each way to go pick fresh produce. So I decided to listen to Oprah and Deepak help me meditate on becoming unstuck in life. They are very calming, BTW.

I also bake to relieve stress. I made some modifications to Smitten Kitchen’s Blueberry Crumb Cake.  If you click, you get their recipe. My changes involve adding buttermilk instead of plain milk, lemon extract instead of vanilla and adding walnuts to the crumb topping instead of putting them in the cake. I also bake it in a loaf pan, instead of a cake pan, because I like the square slices. I like crunch on top of my cakes, not in the middle of the delicate crumb. This is best eaten warm, or the day of baking.

blueberry crumb cake

Blueberry Crumb Cake

Crumb topping

4 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup  granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon (or a couple of good gratings) of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

In a food processor or blender, pulse together all the ingredients except the butter until crumbly. Add the butter and just pulse to combine. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon extract
240 grams of all-purpose flour (measurement is important in this recipe – if you don’t have a scale, this is about 2 level cups unsifted flour, minus 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 pint fresh blueberries

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and lemon extract. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk until incorporated (2 to 3 additions of each). Do not over mix. Fold in blueberries. Scrape batter into pan. Top with crumb topping.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (don’t worry about blueberry marks on the tester, just look for batter sticking to it).

Remove from oven, cool and serve.

Happy picking (or just plain eating).











Fresh on Friday: Corn

All spring and into early summer I watch the cornfields around my house as I ride my bike. First, they look like little weeds. Then they start to stretch skyward, reaching my knees and then shoulders. Mason Farms typically has fresh local sweet corn by July Fourth and so the season begins – stretching into September and October depending on the weather. By then, I will be interested in chowders and soups, but when it is 80-plus degrees, not so much.

Growing up, a dozen or so ears would go into a pot of boiling water, turning the kitchen into a steaming mess. Now I microwave it whole, husk on, after chopping off the bottom stalk and about an inch of the ear. Four ears are done in 4 to 8 minutes, depending on your microwave strength (mine takes about 6-7). If you allow it to cool, you can then strip the husk and silk easily off the ear.

I still buy corn by the dozen even though I don’t live in a house with brothers and sisters anymore. Then, a dozen ears would feed our family with no leftovers. Today, I typically have a half dozen leftover. I strip it off the ear and it goes into salads, salsas, breads and dips. I’ll share more recipes as the summer progresses.

But first, my favorite – a fritter/pancake with corn and zucchini. A true fritter, to me, would be round and puffy and totally deep-fried. Mine are more like pancakes cooked with just enough oil in the bottom of the pan to crisp them up, but not deep fry. It’s best made in cast iron skillet.



Zucchini Corn Fritters

2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
Kosher salt
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
4 ears corn, kernels cut off
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
Canola oil for frying

Sprinkle zucchini with salt and let stand for about 15 minutes. Wrap in a kitchen towel and squeeze out excess liquid.

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onion, corn, cornmeal, flours, baking powder, cumin, and salt. Combine thoroughly. Whisk together 1/2 cup buttermilk and the eggs. Add to zucchini mixture. If it is too dry, add more buttermilk. You want it holding together, but not runny like pancake batter.

Heat a large skillet, cast iron is great for this, and add enough oil to coat the bottom (you want to see a little shimmer) over medium heat. Scoop corn cakes, four to a batch, into the skillet (about 1/4 cup or an ice cream scoop). Flatten so they are even (of they are runny, add more flour). Cook until browned on one side, about 3 to 4 minutes. You may want to rotate carefully about 2 minutes into this so they are evenly browned. Flip and cook until browned on the other side.

Serve with Salsa or the Ancho Sauce.

fritters with salsa


1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or more to taste)
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeded, and diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

In a medium-sized bowl, add tomatoes and toss with salt. Let sit about 5 minutes while you are chopping the rest of your ingredients. Add the remaining ingredients (I only add about 1/2 of the jalapeno, so you I can adjust the heat). Toss. Allow to sit for about 20 minutes before serving so the flavors marry.

This will not refrigerate well.

fritters with ancho

Ancho Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt – just not the nonfat kind)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients through salt. Taste and add as much lime juice as you like, starting with about 1 teaspoon. The flavors will develop over time, so allow it to rest about 30 minutes before serving.

Happy summer eating.




Market Monday: Broccoli and Kale

garden - pardini

In bloom at one of my favorite gardens are zinnia and hydrangea. The sculptures are by Brian Pardini. The garden is by Patty Baldwin. I will share updates of its blooms as the summer goes on.

Throughout this farm market season, I’ll be posting what I’ve found in season at area farm markets and in my CSA basket from Hunter Farms in Fairview.

Greens continue to be strong – my basket included collard greens, kale and lettuce again this week. In the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network community garden on Parade Street, I can tell you that the same veggies are faring well in the square-foot-garden in the city. I harvested the last of the kale out of my garden this week because it has been under attack by the neighborhood infestation of Japanese beetles.


I enjoy kale and particularly like a kale Caesar salad with leftover grilled chicken. The key to a good kale salad is to massage the kale leaves  with the dressing and allow to sit in a baggie or a bowl in the refrigerator for several hours before serving. This helps integrate the dressing into the kale and soften it.


My favorite Caesar dressing is

1 egg yolk
1 clove finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 anchovy fillets (don’t worry they get mashed up)
4 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)
1/8 teaspoon sugar or honey
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup neutral oil, like canola
Freshly ground pepper
Dash of hot sauce (optional)

Place egg, garlic, mustard, anchovy, lemon juice, sugar or honey and fish sauce on the cup of an immersion blender or a small blender. Puree until you don’t see any anchovy and all of the ingredients are combined and a pale yellow in color. With motor running, drizzle in the two oils. It will become thick. Taste. You can add a tablespoon or more oil if it is too thick. Mix in ground pepper and hot sauce (optional) to taste.

This makes enough for several salads and will keep well in refrigerator.

For broccoli, typically I just toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it in a 400- to 425-degree oven until it is browned. It is wonderful served alone or with some of that Caesar dressing. I’ve been known to dip the broccoli into the dressing while making dinner … only to find I’m full and there’s no broccoli for dinner.

Oh well.

But not everyone likes their broccoli that way. A big hit at potlucks at my former office is a broccoli salad made with a creamy sweet dressing, cheese, raisins, lots of bacon and sunflower seeds.

broccoli salad

For a recent outdoor lunch in Warren, I followed the recipe from Ocean Spray, only I made a few changes. I cooked the fresh broccoli florets in the microwave for 90 seconds because I’m not a fan of raw broccoli. The quick nuke makes the broccoli bright green and keeps the crunch, and makes it easier to eat (in my opinion). I cut the amount of sugar in half for the dressing and used the low-sugar dried cranberries.

The dressing itself is what I typically use for slaw, so here it is

Creamy Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sugar or sugar substitute
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
Hot sauce, optional, to taste

Mix well. Add to slaw or broccoli salad about an hour before serving. Taste and add salt if needed.

Enjoy summer’s bounty






How Does the Community Garden Grow


Nothing tastes better than harvesting the fruits of your own labor. That’s a mission that the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network took to heart when it took over the Seeds of Hope garden at the corner of 22nd and Parade streets this  year.

Linked In hooked me up with Margarita Dangel, east program director for the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, when I was looking for volunteer opportunties. I had worked in the garden twice getting it ready – planting some flowers and helping put up the rabbit fence before we dug in on June 2.

That’s when volunteers, Master Gardeners from Penn State and the neighbors came together to weed and plant the raised beds with cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash and herbs  using the square-foot-garden method, gridded with string. The long beds at the end are being planted and tended by the SSJNN with the help of volunteers. The Master Gardeners were there to provide guidance on the care for plants in this gardening zone. The area is ethnically diverse, often serving as a transitional neighborhood for recent immigrants.

It’s a reminder of the lifelong importance of gardening, especially for women. My father taught me to garden when I was a preteen, laying out our garden on grid paper with zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce and herbs. He worked long hours, so the kids were often responsible for remembering to water (with lots of prompting) and weeding. While we weren’t fond of the gigantic zucchini, the life lessons were important. I have had a garden of some sort – even if it was just a half dozen pots filled with tomatoes – at every home since I have graduated from college. One year, I moved midway through the summer and transported my tomato plants in the back of my two-seater convertible and then up to the second floor balcony of the new apartment. I shared tomatoes later that season with neighbors, who returned the favor with freshly-caught fish and the following spring, morel mushrooms.

That was my first lesson about how a garden could help build a community among strangers.

Since then, I’ve shared tomatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, cucumbers and homemade pesto with neighbors. I still recall my daughter having friends over and she picked a tomato off the plant and ate it. The kids were all in awe – they didn’t realize tomatoes came from plants.

At this point in the spring/summer, mostly I have lettuces, radishes and arugula. The sign for fresh strawberries just went up at Mason Farms along Old French Road. So what could be better than some grilled chops and a fresh salad, using a mixture of lettuces and strawberries?

veal chop

Grilled veal chop, baked beans, orzo carbonara and a fresh salad with arugula and strawberries, watermelon and fresh feta.

The veal chops, purchased at the West Side Market in Cleveland from Sebastian Meats, were perfect. I simply marinated in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary. To finish the chops, add a drizzle of olive oil and a small pat of butter while they rest. This will create a juice to drizzle on top.

Strawberry, Watermelon, Arugula and Feta Salad

1 cup watermelon cubes
1 cup hulled strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on size)
2 cups arugula
1/4 cup feta (preferably sheep’s milk), crumbled
Thinly sliced red onion to taste
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, strawberries, arugula, feta, onion and basil. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil and honey. Drizzle over salad and toss gently. Taste. Add salt and pepper, if desired.



Tea Time with Violets

Sarah Crosby, half of the, introduced me to violet tea. We were talking about her kombucha-making adventures with her partner, Jesse Horning, and she said one of her favorites was a violet lemonade combination. The season for violets is fleeting (check your yard now).

As a girl, a friend and I would pick and eat violets because they were sweet. Crosby told me they are loaded with vitamin C. They also contain some salicytic acid (natural aspirin) and have been credited with healing powers in both the flowers, leaves and roots. You can read more at Mother Earth News.

I grabbed a small canvas bag  and set out on my urban foraging mission to pick a bag of violets. They like loamy soil and some shade. I knew the perfect spot and the homeowners. There are a couple of rules when harvesting from nature. The first is to ask permission if you are on someone’s property. The second is to respect the plants, so watch your step and leave intact flowers behind to preserve the beauty of the landscape. The third is to use a gathering basket or bag made of natural materials that breath, so your harvest doesn’t mold.

Once you pick the violets, you can make your tea immediately with fresh flowers and/or you can dry the flowers for later use. If you choose to dry, place them in a basket made of natural fibers and with plenty of ventilation.

violet tea brewing

Steeping the violets in the teapot.

I put a couple of spoonfuls in my teapot, which has a tea strainer, and poured boiling water in. I allowed it to steep for about 5 minutes and then poured a beautiful cup of blue-green tea. I added a squeeze of Meyer lemon (also in season), which somewhat diminished the color, and a little maple syrup at the suggestion of Crosby, a photographer who worked in Erie and has since moved to western Massachusetts.

The unfinished tea went into the refrigerator for iced violet lemonade the next day. What a delightfully refreshing drink.


violet tea glass

The tea turns a pretty violet color. If you add lemon, it will change the color to a pink.

Crosby is an experienced kombucha brewer, so she is quite creative with her recipes and ingredients, including using the violet tea. You can check out her blog for recipes. I’m still in the beginning phase, so I stick to the basic recipe of green, white or black tea as the base.

Until I become more practiced in the art of kombucha, I made a violet syrup that can be used throughout the spring to infuse teas and lemonade. It is quite simple, but requires a fair amount of sugar.

Here is the recipe I used, which is adapted from several websites, including UseRealButter, LavendarandLovage, InJenniesKitchen.

violet syrup

Violet Syrup

3 to 4 handfuls of violets

2/3 cup boiling water

1 1/2 cups sugar (some recipes call for white sugar, some like natural cane sugar)

Put violets (stems removed) into a glass bowl that can fit over the top of a pot (creating a double boiler) or a sterilized Mason jar. Pour boiling water on top of violets and stir. Cover and let steep for 24 hours at room temperature.

Pour the mixture into a nonreactive pot over low heat and bring to just below a simmer (never boil), add sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Or you can create a double boiler by putting your glass bowl on top of a pot filled halfway with boiling water. Keep the water at a high simmer or low boil. Add the sugar to the bowl with the water and violets and stir until the sugar dissolves. This may take awhile, but assures you won’t burn your violets or scorch the sugar.

Use a strainer to collect the violets as your pour the liquid into a clean sterilized glass container. Some people add a squeeze of lemon juice now, which will change the color of your liquid to a pink. Refrigerate for up to a year.

Can be used to sweeten teas, frostings or any drink calling for simple syrup.