Category: Recipes

Love Blooms under the Fig Tree

After 22 years in this house I’m moving, and I think the thing I’ll miss the most is the fig tree.  It’s not fig season yet, the figs are still hard little nubs on the branch, but last year the figs ripened while I was in Scotland and my friends left bags of fruit for me in the freezer that the move has prompted Fig Jamme to deal with.

So I’m making jam, three batches of fig and ginger jam, to be exact, and thinking it might be my last. Possibly not the most pressing job in this crazy month, but soothing, somehow.

I’m feeling sentimental because the bower beneath the fig arbor (the tree gets so heavy with fruit that we had to build a support) was the scene of Stephanie and Max’s first kiss in The Good Neighbor. In my Fortune Bay series, Stephanie is the matriarch, and a widow, alone until Max comes along. He’s new in town and, well, they hit it off right away.

 

The fig tree scene from The Good Neighbor:

Max walked around the corner of the house into Stephanie’s back yard. The warm breeze off the lake smelled sweet as honey wine. “Steph?”

A disembodied voice floated to him on the wind. “Over here.”

He scanned the yard and noticed a tree the size and shape of an elephant, up against one of the out buildings, shivering, its big, lobed leaves quaking. He headed over and stepped under the trellis that held up the long, knotted branches. Sunlight penetrated the translucent leaves creating a cool and ethereal bower.

“The figs are in!” Stephanie’s triumphant voice emerged from inside the tree. A stepladder with two feet perched on a rung halfway up, leaned against the arbor. Long, firm legs rose from there, ending where Stephanie’s baggy green shorts disappeared into the dense leafy branches.

“Help me,” she said, her hand appearing beneath the canopy of leaves, cupping a succulent green fruit.

Max took the warm fig from her hand. He’d never seen fresh figs before. So soft you couldn’t pile them without them losing their shape, he placed it carefully into the cardboard flat at the foot of the ladder.

Splat! One fell at his feet, bursting like a water balloon.

“Sorry.” Stephanie’s voice was muffled by the layers of leaves between them. He bent over to look at the fallen fruit more closely. It had broken open on impact, revealing bright pink flesh inside that looked like a million tiny caterpillars.

“Are they supposed to look like that?”

“Well, that one is very ripe. Here, take these.”

He reached a hand up by her hip to take the next handful, fully aware he could have run his hand right up her leg and into those baggy shorts. Instead he placed the fruit on the flat, then gazed around, suddenly seeing hundreds of camouflaged green orbs, the same luminous colour as the leaves. A wasp buzzed past his ear and settled on the mashed fruit at his feet.

“Can I help?” He reached up and gingerly touched a fig sticking out from a branch. Having seen how soft they could be, he was afraid to squeeze it, but this one was as firm as a zucchini so he left it on the tree. “How do you tell if they’re ripe?”

“They hang pendulously,” Stephanie said. “And the colour changes, takes on a yellowish cast.”

Now he could see the difference. Some of the fruit stuck straight out from the branches, but others had developed a suggestive droop. Like a ripe breast. He reached out and held the weight of one in his hand and could tell without squeezing that it was ready. With the fruit in his palm, he pulled the fig towards him and it tore away leaving a shred of green skin attached to the branch. The fruit oozed a few white drops of a liquid into his hand.

This just gets more and more suggestive, he thought, a grin on his face as he bent over and set it gently with the others.

Stephanie took a step backwards down the ladder, the green shorts stretched over her round bottom coming down to eye level. Her hands were full of fruit and the ladder wobbled as she took another step. Max reached out to steady the ladder with one hand on either side as she continued to climb down, into the circle of his arms. When she turned around, she smiled.

They were in her yard, yet the bower screened them in a private world.

She met his eyes. “Let me put these down.”

He stepped back, sorry to see the moment pass, kicking himself for not taking the chance while he had her in his arms. As she bent over to the cardboard flat, her breasts swayed pendulously, brushing his arm. His eyes swelled. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

She stood up, stepped back into his space and met his gaze. Was that a smile on her full luscious lips? His arms reached out and there, in the green glow under the arbour, pulled her into an embrace. A forbidden, Garden of Eden embrace.

Their lips touched gently, exploring, and her hands came up to his shoulders. He deepened the kiss and her lips softened in response. His hands dropped to her waist, brushing the sides of her free-hanging breasts. Not grabbing, not even really touching, just feeling the weight.

Pendulous.

And she laughed, rich and deep. She’s ripe too, he thought, his head reeling with the suggestion.

Then she stepped back and bent to pick up the flat of fruit and, as they emerged into the sunlight, the moment became like a scent left in the bower. But he would remember the feel of her, and the taste, and promised himself he’d taste it again.

“A drink?” she asked. “It must be that time.”

He followed her back to the house and when they were sitting in the screen porch, drinks in their hands, she said, “That was great, but—aren’t you married?”

“Sort of.” How could he explain the woman who called herself his wife? He was unable to put the cold years into words, too shy to admit that this was what he wanted.

She looked at him directly, obviously amused by his reply. “I can’t have an affair with a sort-of-married man.”

“I know,” he said.

And they finished their drinks in companionable silence as the blue of evening fell around them.

* * * * *

 

In some ways Stephanie, a painter, is my alter ego, so I’m sure she makes jam Fig and Ginger Jam. For those of you lucky enough to have access to figs, here’s our recipe.

And although I’ve never been kissed beneath the fig tree, it is a magical place and I will miss it. But as luck would have it, I’d rooted a baby fig that I will take with me and maybe in a few years, when my supply of jam runs out, this tree will be big enough to start giving me figs.

Christmas fruitcake cupcakes

This is my fantastic old recipe for the Best Christmas Fruitcake Ever, but in a new form. Fruitcake cupcakes!

It’s always so popular, so sweet and moist, that even though the recipe makes 5 small loaves, it’s never enough to give a nice looking piece to the number of people I want to share it with.

So this year I tried baking it in muffin cups–with some success.  I immediately discovered that if it’s not a loaf, you’ll want to cut the cherries into smaller pieces. (When you slice the loaf the cherries automatically get sliced.) That left me digging the cherries out of the batter–well, you get the picture. The alternative would be to put in a lot more cherries! I’ll leave that decision to you.

I started with the tiny muffin/ cupcake tins, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and saw right away that the fruit mix was too coarse for that size–and that you’d want to do something about that before mixing into the batter. (see above) Also, they baked too fast and got very crispy on the top. Basically little rocks. Most of those went into the compost. 🙁

Regular sized muffin tins worked well though, but I would still recommend cutting up the cherries. I tried putting a half a candied cherry on top but most of them sank into the mix.

Other than that, they were very successful! 🙂

This recipe is so moist (it’s the jam and pineapple) that you really don’t have to wrap the cakes cloths soaked in brandy, or fruit juice, or, my favorite, Fireball. So I’m not planning on wrapping the cupcakes. (Although I will wrap the loaves in brandy soaked cloths, and foil, and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until Christmas.)

But I would suggest baking them in paper or, even better, foil lined muffin cups (they might stick to paper) since they get slightly candied on top and stick to the tins. I didn’t do that and had to cut them out of the tins.

And only bake for one hour thirty minutes, checking occasionally from one hour on.

Get The Best Christmas Fruitcake Ever recipe HERE.

It’s a great recipe, nothing like the dry cakes you buy in the supermarket. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

PS _ The winner of the print copy of The Good Neighbor in November’s Facebook sweepstakes was Teresa Byrd! Congratulations Teresa!

Watch for next month’s contest when you’ll be able to enter in comments on the blog post too.

 

Cherry Cake

I had a house full this week, my niece, her partner and their 5 children visiting and, it being cherry season here in BC, I took the opportunity to make my favorite Cherry Cake. It’s sort of like the French Clafoutis but the beaten egg whites make it more of a cake, less pie. And the almond extract makes it smell amazing!

We’ve been lucky to have a prolific cherry tree for many years and I make this cake form either fresh or frozen cherries.  Best eaten the first day – as if you could resist!

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Print Recipe
Cherry Cake
A light un-iced cherry cake bursting with juicy cherries.
Cuisine Sweet Treats
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
pieces
Ingredients
Cuisine Sweet Treats
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
pieces
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Wash and pit cherries.
  2. Separate eggs and set yolks aside. Beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside in another bowl.
  3. Cream butter. Add the sugar. Add egg yolks and almond extract and beat vigorously.
  4. Mix in flour and salt.
  5. Butter mixture will be quite stiff. Add a bit of the egg whites to soften, then fold egg whites into butter mixture. Do not over blend.
  6. Butter 9" X 9" baking pan (or slightly larger) and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Pour in batter and stud with drained cherries.
  7. Bake at 375° F. for 30 minutes. Cool and sprinkle with icing sugar to decorate if you wish.
  8. Enjoy.

Long Weekend Rhubarb Cake

It doesn’t feel like a summer long weekend to me without the rhubarb coffee cake my mother-in-law Betty always served at the cottage.

The Canadian and American July long weekends fall just a few days apart; July 1, Canada Day, the big 150 this year, and the Fourth of July. If your house is like ours, people are coming and going all weekend. We spent Canada Day at my sister-in-law’s lake house this year, and I brought the rhubarb cake as a tribute to Betty.

Sweet, not too rhubarb-y, it’s perfect anytime when you have a houseful.

Have a wonderful holiday!


Print Recipe
Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Everyone loves this sweet coffee cake.
Cuisine Sweet Treats
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
13 x 9 pan
Ingredients
Cuisine Sweet Treats
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
13 x 9 pan
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. - cream butter and sugar
  2. - beat in eggs and vanilla
  3. - sift together flour, salt and soda and add to creamed mixture alternating with buttermilk
  4. - toss rhubarb with 1 tsp flour and mix in by hand.
  5. - pour into buttered 13 x 9 pan
  6. - Mix butter, cinnamon & brown sugar and sprinkle on top of cake
  7. - bake for 45 minutes.

Raspberry & White Chocolate Macarons

Last week I was channeling Louise, the pastry chef in Home for Christmas as I made a ridiculously fancy but really quite easy to make batch of Raspberry and White Chocolate Macarons. People often ask if my characters are like me, or me them, and I always say no but, the truth is, there is a bit of me in most of them.

My editor Stephanie Webb is hosting a tea the next day (she’s a Brit) to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend. “A good excuse to air out the linen,” she said. She’s done it before and it’s lots of fun. She made fancy party sandwiches and little cakes – scones last time if I remember correctly. But when I saw her last week I heard myself say, “I’ll bring a plate of fancy cookies.”

Fancy, because anything she made for this event was bound to be fancy, but any one who knows me well knows that Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, or Children’s Delight is my normal baking style. Something hearty with a little food value. I  used to cut the amount of sugar in half and until my kids refused to eat my cookies. Now I rarely make cookies at all, but these macarons caught my eye in a flier in the paper and strangely, I had just cleaned out the baking cupboard and knew I had all the ingredients: white chocolate, ground almonds, raspberry freezer jam (the best!).

The macarons were much easier than I anticipated. Not really  a trick at all. I made the macarons the day before while watching the World Figure Skating Championships on TV (Yay Canada!) and made the filling Sunday morning before the party.

They were such a hit, I thought I’d put the recipe here to give you time to make them for a special Easter dinner treat.

Louise would be proud.

Get the recipe HERE

Let me know how they turn out.

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