Mulberries, Carolina Parroquets, and Synchronicity

This past weekend, I was reminded again of the power of synchronicity or that magical coming-together of "your wish is my command."

I wanted to make a fruit crisp for a family dinner. When I went out to the backyard, I saw that along the fence, volunteer mulberry trees were full of berries. Wild, organic, free, and convenient. Perfect! Thank you, Universe.

I've picked mulberries since I was a kid at camp. Years later, when I was working on Prairie Home Cooking, I gathered them to test a Russian Mennonite recipe from central Kansas, which became the fruit crisp below. 

Ripe mulberries get squishy fast, so you don't often see them at farmer's markets. But with a little luck, you can find them if you tune in your radar.

Sometimes, the universe sends you a message that you're on the right track through synchronicity.  When I was working on The Cake Therapist 

and writing a flashback about The Singing Lady, a woman who had a children's radio show out of Chicago, I happened upon a vintage cereal box from the 1930s with a Singing Lady story on the back. I got that feeling right under my heart that I was on the right track. Keep going, the universe seemed to say.

The same thing happened when I was writing The Memory of Lemon.

I was writing a flashback about John James Audubon's time in Cincinnati. I was also reading first-person accounts of passenger pigeons and Carolina parroquets that were plentiful in 1820's Ohio, but now extinct. And I happened upon this Audubon print:

Just what I needed--a look at Carolina parroquets in all their glittery plumage. Again, "Keep going" whispered to me at a time when a writer can feel like it's all too much.

So I wasn't too surprised when the thing I really wanted just turned up in a very explainable, yet very magical way.


Next time, maybe I should ask for a New York Times bestseller. Oops, I just did. . . .

Lemon-Zested Mulberry and Rhubarb Crisp

If mulberries are available, try mulberries in place of all or some of the blackberries in this wonderful crisp—just as good for breakfast as it is for dessert, if you have any left!
Serves 8

2 cups fresh mulberries (any little green stems snipped off) or blackberries
4 cups 1-inch slices fresh rhubarb
1 tablespoon instant tapioca
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
Vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large baking dish. Combine the berries, rhubarb, tapioca, lemon juice, and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl. Stir gently to blend well.

Transfer the fruit mixture to the prepared baking dish. 

Combine the remaining 1 cup sugar with the flour, lemon zest and butter in a bowl. 

Mix with your fingers to make  a streusel or large crumbs.

Sprinkle the streusel on top of the fruit in the baking pan. 

Bake for 35 minutes or until bubbling. To serve, scoop the warm crisp into a bowl and top with a scoop of ice cream.

Grilled Asparagus Flatbread with Lemon Aioli

We’re continuing our lemon theme, in honor of the upcoming book birthday of

but with grilling this time. I am a cookbook author and a bbq queen, too! I wear a chef's hat and a tiara when I'm not sitting in front of my computer, waiting for inspiration to strike.

But I digress. . .

Our outdoor kitchens today may be stainless steel and the open fire may come from hardwood lump charcoal or a propane tank. But our love for French-inspired food continues.

Barbecuing with a French accent is easy. Simply pair a grilled Brie and tapenade-stuffed chicken breast with a classic bistro salad, a baguette and a bottle of wine or a cocktail. Stir up an easy Bearnaise Sauce before you throw the steak on the coals.

Slice the new “it” vegetable—cauliflower—into “paillards” or steaks to grill to a delicious turn. You can’t believe how great cauliflower can taste with a few grill marks and a little Orange-Olive Pistou, a south-of-France riff on pesto or salsa.

For a wow-y appetizer or main dish, grill asparagus and flatbreads . Then put them together with a dollop of lemon aioli and a sprinkling of feta and pistachios for a flavor combination that is c’est magnifique

Or put a classic French daube or stew on your smoker to get that ancient flavor of hearth cooking.

Voilà! That’s BBQ Bistro by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press, 2015. These Kansas City authors continue their fresh take on backyard barbecue from The Gardener and the Grill and Patio Pizzeria. To increase your grilling savoir faire, BBQ Bistro offers an array of barbecue techniques from grilling on a plancha and cast iron to rotisserie, grill-roasting, herb grilling, and slow smoking.

These techniques reach back to the hearth-style cooking of long ago and blaze ahead to the fresher way we want to eat now.

Lemon Aioli
Adapted from BBQ Bistro by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig

Aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise from Provence used to accompany fish and shellfish, but we love it with grilled salmon or a platter of grilled vegetables. The trick to making light, fluffy aioli in a food processor is using the whole egg instead of just egg yolks. If the food safety of raw eggs is a concern for you, use pasteurized eggs in their shells or 1/2 cup (125ml) pasteurized liquid whole egg. This is a milder aioli with a hint of lemon.

Makes about 2 cups (500 ml)

2 large eggs
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (add a little lemon zest for more lemon flavor)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
11/2 cups (375 ml) olive oil

In a food processor, combine the eggs, garlic, lemon juice, and mustard; pulse to blend. With the motor running, through the food tube, gradually add the olive oil, processing until thick and creamy. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Grilled Asparagus Flatbread with Pistachios, Feta, and Lemon Aioli

French flatbreads are deliciously simple. In the north, the Alsatian tarte flambée or flammekuchen is a thin flatbread made with yeast dough and topped with crème fraiche, lardons (bacon), and onion. In the south, fougasse has the filling rolled into the dough and is shaped in a leaf form. We have taken the yeast dough, rolled it thin, and then grilled it to await the French toppings of grilled asparagus, lemon aioli, feta, and pistachios. (The French feta cheese is mild and creamy and usually made from excess sheep’s milk that is not used for making Roquefort.) With a flute of Champagne, life is good.

Serves 4

1 recipe Lemon Aioli, prepared (above)
1 pound (450 g) prepared pizza dough
Olive oil for brushing
1 pound (450 g) fresh asparagus
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (125 g) French feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup (30 g) shelled, roasted, and chopped pistachios

Prepare a medium-hot indirect fire in your grill.

Divide the dough into four parts. Pat or roll each part into a 6-inch (15-cm) oval on a floured surface. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet to take to the grill.

Trim the asparagus, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and take out to the grill. Place the asparagus spears perpendicular to the grill rack. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning often, until the asparagus is tender-crisp and has charred a bit. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into 2-inch-long (5 cm) diagonal pieces. Set aside.

Place the dough ovals on the grill grates. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes or until the underside has good grill marks. Transfer the dough ovals to the indirect side, grilled side up. Dollop Lemon Aioli on the top of each grilled dough oval and spread it quickly with the back of the spoon. Scatter with asparagus, and then sprinkle with feta and pistachios. Close the grill lid, and grill for 3 to 4 minutes or until the feta is beginning to melt and the dough has cooked through.

Serve warm and pass the remaining Lemon Aioli at the table.

Pie Night

From The Memory of Lemon

Pie Night at Neely’s bakery, Rainbow Cake

People I had never seen before flocked in, their faces showing a longing you never saw for cake. People’s eyes lit up for a cupcake; cake seemed to signal celebration. But their eyes got filmy, watery, misty when we handed them a slice of pie. Pie was memory. Nostalgia. Pie made people recall simpler, maybe happier times.”

Real-life businesses have inspired both The Cake Therapist and The Memory of LemonIn creating Neely's fictional bakery, I've been free to gather the best ideas. Seasonal, signature flavors of the month from ice cream parlors like Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and Graeter's. The look of La Durée, a Parisian tea salon,  and their brilliant use of color. In a previous blog post "The Art of a Wedding Cake Tasting," I described how I made pastry chef Neely's ritual of a wedding cake tasting very special after visiting--and sampling from-- Andrea Adams Britt's lovely wedding cake bakery for my own daughter's wedding. 

Dolce Bakery, in a Kansas City suburb near where I live, makes their cinnamon rolls, cookies, scones, and cakes from scratch. In the summer when berries and orchard fruits are plentiful, they host Cobbler Night from time to time. 

So, why not Pie Night for Neely's bakery? The reason is that she has to come up with pies and tarts that will taste great, hold up, and please the picky palates of a society mother and her folksinger daughter. And I imagined a chorus line of pies.

Scalloped tarts with a filling flavored by spicebush berries, a Kentucky native. (Photo by Donna Hay).

Blackberry tarts with a lattice top, also a Kentucky favorite.

Neely had fun experimenting with all the possibilities in  crust and filling.

And on Pie Night, her customers sampled pies of all kinds. (These pies are from Rye, a restaurant celebrating Midwestern cuisine and culture in Leawood, Kansas.)

Blackberry and Lavender Turnovers

With a package of puff pastry in the freezer and a jar of good blackberry jam, you can turn fresh blackberries with a hint of lavender into a summer treat.  Pack up these turnovers for a summer outdoor concert, a tasty reward after a hike, or a lunchbox goodie. You can find culinary lavender buds at Penzey's, your garden, or online. Recipe from Bake Happy.

Makes 8 turnovers

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 14-ounce/397 397-g or a 16-ounce/454 454-g package), thawed and kept cold in the refrigerator

Blackberry and Lavender Filling:
1/2 cup (125 ml) blackberry jam
1/2 teaspoon organic, dried culinary-grade lavender buds
11/2 cups (216 g) fresh blackberries
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons granulated or raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
Place the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a thickness of 1/4 inch (6 cm). Using a pizza cutter or paring knife, cut the pastry into 8 squares.
For the filling, combine the blackberry jam and lavender in a small saucepan over
medium-high heat. Stir the mixture until the jam starts to bubble around the edges. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in blackberries and lemon juice.
To assemble the turnovers, brush the perimeter of each pastry square with a little water.
Spoon about 1/4 cup (59 ml) of the filling into the center of each pastry square. Fold the squares in half on the diagonal to form a triangle. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork. Brush the top of each turnover with beaten egg and dust with sugar. With a paring knife, make 3 diagonal slits on top of each pastry. Place the turnovers on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the filling is bubbling. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the turnovers to a wire rack to cool.  These are best enjoyed the same day they are made.

So Happy Together:
Dark Berries + Lavender
A little sprinkle of dried lavender buds brings out the “purple” flavor in dark berries such as blackberries, blueberries, marionberries, and black raspberries.